Celebrate National Safe Boating Week

May 19, 2022
Hanging lifeboat, orange safety beacon and life preserver ring on the railing on the wooden promenade deck of a luxury cruise ship at dusk. Small aperture creates star effect on the sun as it is peaking from behind the life preserver. Boat is on a calm blue sea with no land in sight.

National Safe Boating Week is May 21-27, 2022, a reminder to all boaters to brush up on boating safety skills and prepare for the boating season.

The basics of boater safety

Understandably, wearing life jackets is a primary emphasis of boating safety. That’s for good reason: U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the cause of death in four out of every five recreational boating fatalities in 2020 and that 86 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

Of course, boating safety encompasses much more: taking a boating safety course, making sure all equipment is in good working order, using an engine cut-off device, watching the weather, following navigation rules, having proper charts, and avoiding boating under the influence (the cause of one-third of all recreational boating fatalities).

The importance of up-to-date nautical charts

A nautical chart is a graphic representation of a sea area and adjacent coastal regions. Depending on the scale of the chart, it may show depths of water and heights of land (topographic map), natural features of the seabed, details of the coastline, navigational hazards, locations of natural and human-made aids to navigation, information on tides and currents, local details of the Earth’s magnetic field, and human-made structures such as harbors, buildings, and bridges. 

Technologies have made available paper charts that are printed “on demand.” They contain cartographic data that has been downloaded to a commercial printing company (such as OceanGrafix) as recently as the night before printing. With each daily download, critical data such as Local Notices to Mariners are added to the on-demand chart files so that these charts are up to date at the time of printing.

Beyond these official charts, OceanGrafix offers several books that provide mariners with vital safety information. Here is a partial listing:

  • U.S. Coast Pilot® Series. This ten-volume series of the U.S. coastal, intercoastal and Great Lakes waterways includes supplemental navigational information that is difficult to portray on nautical charts, such as channel descriptions, anchorages, bridge and cable clearances, currents, ice conditions, dangers and traffic separation schemes. 
  • USCG Light List Volumes. The USCG Light List is published in seven volumes and contains lights and other aids to navigation used for general navigation that are maintained by or under the authority of the U.S. Coast Guard and located in the waters surrounding the United States and its Territories.
  • 2022 Tide and Tidal Current Tables. This two-volume set contains predicted times of slack water, and times and speeds of maximum current (flood and ebb) for each day of the year. More than 80 reference ports and 3,000 subordinate stations are available. One volume covers the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States, and the other covers the Pacific Coast of the United States including the Hawaiian Islands.

Other important books for safe boating include USCG Navigational RulesPort Distances and Publication 1310 on radar navigation. The complete list of navigational books is listed on the OceanGrafix website under the Products tab.


The Black Sea: A Mariner’s Trip Back in Time

April 26, 2022

The Black Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean lying between Europe and Asia. It sits to the east of the Balkans in Southeast Europe, south of the East European Plain in Eastern Europe, and north of Anatolia and west of the Caucasus, both in Western Asia.

While it appears landlocked, a waterway connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, first through Istanbul (the Bosporus Straight) and then through the Sea of Marmara (the Dardanelles Strait). And, after a journey of 1,700 miles, the Danube drains into it.

In ancient times, mariners avoided the Black Sea due to its difficult navigation, winter storms that make the water appear black, rumored monsters in its black depths and hosts of savage tribes along its shores. 

NGA Nautical Chart 55001, Black Sea, 36 inches by 48 inches.

Unusual facts about the Black Sea

What makes the Black Sea so unique…and seem so ancient? Here are some common reasons.

Waters on the Black Sea do, indeed, appear black.

1. It’s anoxic. The Black Sea water is, especially at its depths, without oxygen, or anoxic. Only slight mixing with the Mediterranean Sea has brought oxygen-rich water to the surface of the Black Sea, but not to its depths. No marine life can live much below the surface.

This lack of oxygen makes the water act as a preservative. Reportedly, remains of those who drown in the Black Sea never decompose and lie at the bottom forever.

2. Noah’s Ark may have landed there. Although still debated, a rising of the seas in Noah’s time may well have sent him sailing into the Black Sea. This leads to the logic of why remnants of his ark are said to have been found on Mt. Ararat in Turkey, bordering the Black Sea, after the glacial water receded.

3. Its rocks are old. Rocks around the sea date to the Precambrian era, the earliest time of the earth’s history—dating perhaps to the formation of the solar system! These rocks were around long before the first dinosaurs!

4. Greek mythology traversed the Black Sea. According to legend, Jason and the Argonauts set out to find the Golden Fleece in the land of Colchis, a kingdom at the sea’s eastern tip (now Georgia).

5. It’s big. The Black Sea is 7,257 feet deep and six different countries border it. The coastline, if stretched into a straight line, is three-fifths as long as the diameter of the earth. 

6. The Black Sea and Great Britain are cousins. Flooding from glacier melt 500,000 years ago (from a glacier that stretched from Ireland to Russia) put so much stress on the European continent that it broke off Great Britain into an island before it drained into the basin that is now the Black Sea.

7. The seabed is a museum of shipwrecks. Wooden shipwrecks dating back to the 3rd and 5th centuries B.C. have been discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea during diving expeditions. They are preserved perfectly due to the non-oxygen environment.

8. Some sea life exists. While most of the Black Sea water has no oxygen and cannot support life, the top 200 meters has varying amounts of oxygen deposited by rivers that drain into the basin. In that layer are zebra mussels, anchovies, common carp, round goby, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, beluga whales and grey seals.

There are also some interesting facts about the Sea of Azov, which is north and connected to The Black Sea:

9. The Sea of Azov is shallow. In contrast to the depths of the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov is the shallowest sea in the world, with an average depth of 23 feet and a maximum depth of 46 feet.

10. The Sea of Azov is less salty. Due to lots of freshwater rivers draining into it, the Sea of Azov has a low salinity content, freezes completely over in the winter and has historically been a great fishery, with perch, sturgeon, whitefish, herring, plaice, mackerel, carp, mullet, bream, and anchovies.


Rent Your Boat for Extra Cash!

April 13, 2022

Boat owners: you may be sitting on a gold mine in terms of the rental potential of your boat! People may want to rent your boat and are willing to pay to do so. And now, technology has made it easy to sign up and match renters and owners.

What has fueled boat rentals?

Two trends collided to make boat rentals take off. First, the technology is available and sophisticated, thanks to the online home rental explosion (with websites like Airbnb and Vrbo). Second, the pandemic primed the pump, so to speak, as people sought vacations and travel that was safe. Boating ranked high on the list. 

In short order, thousands of boat rental sites have sprung up. Some are based on a city, like the Chicago waterfront, while others are regional and national. Some are focused on a single marina. Even some home rental sites now rent boats, including VRBO.

These boat rental sites are feeding the rental frenzy, with the global boat rental market expecting to grow from $17.6 billion in 2019 to $23.1 billion by the end of 2025.


Boat Renters: Make Sure the Captain Has the Right Chart!

When someone rents your boat and sets out into open water, one essential is that they have a good navigational chart and know how to use it!

Offer to help renters obtain the right chart for their journey by tapping the vast array of charts on OceanGrafix.

As the chart below illustrates, getting out of a congested harbor like Miami’s takes careful piloting.


It’s easy to get started as a boat renter

With very little effort, you can register your boat for rental. You determine the cost and the conditions, based on the market you’re in (using these same rental sites, you easily can see what other owners of similar boats charge). Set ups are flexible, and you pick the dates when you want to rent your boat. You can request that you always be the captain (with your crew if you like) and rent your boat as a charter service or you can rent your boat where the renter supplies the pilot and crew.

Here are a few quick pointers as you consider renting your boat:

USCG and State Licensing Requirements. If you want to be the captain when you rent your boat, you become officially a charter captain. You must be licensed, and your vessel must meet passenger vessel requirements. Many rental sites will walk you through this requirement.

Insurance. Of course, it’s important to make sure you have the right insurance coverage. Insurance should cover damage if another person pilots the vessel, if that is your set up. Many of the rental sites offer insurance coverage for the rental period. Check with your insurance agent to make sure you have coverage for damage to your boat, damage to another boat from a collision, fines for accidental fuel spills and coverage for personal accidents, medical bills and legal costs.

Fees. Rental companies may charge up to 30% or 40% of the total transaction. This may or may not cover insurance and towing fees. Sites are transparent about their fee structures.

Some boat rental sites to consider

Here are a few popular boat rental sites where you can sign up your boat:

Boatsetter.com. Evolving from a merger of Boat Bound and Cruizin, Boatsetter is currently one of the largest boat rental sites. Rentals include commercial charter insurance. Renters are screened and boats may be rented as captained or bare (it’s up to the owner). Boatsetter maintains a list of licensed captains who you can select to handle your boat. 

Clickandboat.com. While this site began in France and the Mediterranean, it quickly spread worldwide, with 230,000 members and vessels in 450 ports. You can list yachts or sailboats.

Getmyboat.com. They claim to be the world’s largest marketplace for boat rentals, with 150,000 listings in 184 countries and 9,300 locations. Rentals are made available to new boaters and seasoned sailors. Launched in San Francisco in 2013, the site grew exponentially last year. You can rent a dive charter and overnight trips, among others.

Rental stipulations should match your personality

If you are an extrovert and love to pilot your boat, you can set up the rental offer so that a renter must use you to captain the boat. Many renters prefer getting a boat that comes with a captain and crew, so the renter and friends can enjoy the travel without worry. Other renters want a captain in charge who is willing to teach them the ropes.

However, if you have a busy life and are looking to make some money from your boat at times you are not using it, you have two other choices. You can rent the boat as a bareboat, where the renter captains. Or, you can help the renters find a captain and crew.

No matter how you decide to join the boat rental market, rental sites will help answer your questions and smooth the process for you.


New USCG Rule: Update Boat Fire Extinguishers by April 20

March 28, 2022

Beginning April 20, 2022, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) will require all boaters with vessels over 26 feet to have updated fire extinguishers, mandating that all extinguishers have a 12-year (or less) expiration date from the date of manufacture.

Why the attention on fire extinguishers? There were 767 boating fatalities in the United States in 2020, an increase of more than 25 percent from 2019, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. And, fires are a major contributor to injuries and deaths. In fact, Coast Guard data from 2018 shows over 150 fatalities and 200 injuries resulted from fires or explosions on vessels.

A summary of the new guidelines

Here is a simplified explanation of the new extinguisher requirements, which depend on the model year of the boat:

  • Model year 2018 or newer: Extinguishers must be labeled as 5-B, 10-B or 20-B. Extinguishers labeled with B-I or B-II only are no longer acceptable. The manufacturing date must not be more than 12 years old.
  • Model year 2017 or older: Extinguishers labeled B-I or B-II are valid, but the manufacturing date must not be more than 12 years old.
Typical marine fire extinguishers.

Beyond varying by the date of the boat’s model year, the guidelines also change according to the length of boat. Motorized boats under 26 feet are exempt as long as they have outboard engines, fuel is in a portable tank, and there are no areas in the boat that could trap fuel vapors.

In addition, the guidelines address the functionality of the extinguisher itself. Extinguishers must be “serviceable.” This means the pressure gauge must be in the operable range, the lock pin has to be in place, the discharge nozzle has to be clean and clear, and the extinguisher, itself, must not show signs of corrosion or damage. This flow chart by type of craft helps sort out the new USCG fire extinguisher requirements for boat owners.

A quick Q&A about the new rule

Here are some of the most common questions and answers about the USCG fire extinguisher rule.

Is any fire extinguisher automatically approved?

No. The label on the bottle should state “Marine Type – USCG Approved.” Underwriters Labs (UL) approves fire extinguishers on behalf of the USCG. (Further requirements are listed above.)

Are sailboats exempt from this new rule?

Sailboats are not necessarily exempt. The rule mainly applies to motorboats with permanently installed fuel tanks or a storage area where portable fuel tanks may be stored. However, the rule also applies to sailboats with spaces that are capable of trapping fumes, such as a galley, and to sailboats with auxiliary engines.

Where do I find the fire extinguisher expiration date?

Boaters often can find the manufacture date stamped into the bottom of the container or near the UL label. This may be two or four digits — if it is two, as in 08, that means 2008.

What is a Type B fire extinguisher?

A Type B extinguisher is effective with a gasoline fire, which is the most common type of fire on a boat. 

What does the number before the “B” stand for?

The number before the “B” in the new rating refers to the size in square feet of the potential fire the device is suitable to extinguish. So, a 10-B extinguisher can handle a 10-square-foot gasoline fire. A “C” rating means the extinguisher can douse electrical fires.

How many extinguishers are required?

Depending on the size of your boat, you may need more than one. Boats less than 26 feet have to have at least one B-1 fire extinguisher on board. Boats 26 feet to 40 feet need at least two B-1 fire extinguishers on board. If your boat is between 40 and 65 feet, you need to have either three B1 extinguishers or two B2 extinguishers. If the boat has a USCG approved fire extinguisher system installed for protection of the engine compartment, then the required number may be reduced.

Do extinguishers require any maintenance?

Every month, the extinguishers should be turned upside down and shaken to prevent clumping when they are needed.

Must the extinguishers be mounted?

It is highly recommended to mount the fire extinguisher, but it is not a requirement to mount the fire extinguisher. All portable extinguishers must be readily accessible.

What is the fine for being out of compliance?

States generally (but not always) leave extinguisher compliance to the USCG. The USCG is focused on boat operator safety and prefers cooperation to fines.


Ship with $400 Million in Luxury Cars Sinks after Fire

March 16, 2022
In one of the decade’s largest and most dramatic shipwrecks, The Felicity Ace, a 650-foot cargo vessel carrying luxury cars, suddenly caught fire in mid-February in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and sank two weeks later on.

In one of the decade’s largest and most dramatic shipwrecks, The Felicity Ace, a 650-foot cargo vessel carrying luxury cars, suddenly caught fire in mid-February in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and sank two weeks later on March 1.

What was even more surprising is that while cargo ships are the most vulnerable to sinking, the Felicity Ace is the first ship carrying cars to sink.

When it caught fire, the ship was about as far from land (and help) as possible. It sank 250 miles off the Azores Islands, which are 1,000 miles east of Portugal. 

The ship was bound from Germany to Rhode Island, with the cargo of luxury cars pre-sold to American buyers. 

Crew evacuated immediately

The responding firefighters on Portuguese tugboats knew that fires are difficult to extinguish on ships carrying automobiles—thanks to fuel, oil and flammable tires. Knowing this, the priority was to save the crew. This quick thinking led to the safe evacuation by helicopter of the 22 crew members. Action was taken so quickly that despite the heavy smoke of the fires, none of the crew was harmed.

The ship was another story. The fire was so hot and extensive, eventually the tugs had to disengage and watch the ship list and sink. Firefighters said the fire appeared to have been caused by the lithium-ion batteries in some of the electric vehicles on board. 

Danger not over even after ship sinks

The ship now rests on the sea floor at about two miles deep, but the story doesn’t end there. The biggest fear is that the ship could cause massive pollution. It carried 2,200 tons of fuel and 2,000 tons of oil, which over time could leak from holds. 

The cars themselves will degrade in the salt water, potentially releasing automobile paint and plastics that also are pollutants. In this part of the Atlantic, the seabed is covered with coral reefs and sponges. The area is also home to sperm whales, blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins and sharks. If the ship releases chemicals from any of its cargo, flora and fauna face being harmed.

The environmental threat is not theoretical, nor something that might happen years from now. Soon after the sinking, a tugboat located an oil spill above the sunken craft and was dispersing it with fire hoses.

Faial Island in the Azores, west of Portugal (as seen on OceanGrafix NGA nautical chart 103), is where the crew was taken.

Pricey cargo

Luxury cars on board included 1,100 Porsches, 189 Bentleys and a smaller number of Lamborghinis, ranging from $174,000 to over $400,000 each. All vehicles will be covered by marine insurance. 

While customers won’t be on the hook for the loss, they will have to be patient. After originally waiting up to eight months for their automobile order, those customers now face waiting at least that long for replacements.


A Last Frontier: Mapping the Ocean Floor

March 3, 2022
View from the Mariana Trench, the deepest depths in the Western Pacific, 3d render illustration

Efforts to map the world’s ocean floors, once a tedious process that seemed never-ending, is now on a fast track. A new initiative, Seabed 2030, aims to have all mapping worldwide finished by 2030.

This incredibly ambitious project has a long way to go in just eight years. While oceans cover 70 percent of the earth’s surface, only 20 percent of the ocean floors have been mapped in the past 3,400 years, since the Phoenicians began ocean-going boating in 1200 B.C.

A bathymetric chart of Pt. Sur to Pt. Reyes off the California coast (chart 1307N-11M on OceanGrafix.com). OceanGrafix carries bathymetric chartsfor the U.S. Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, the northern coast of South America,  and some portions of the Pacific Ocean.

Think of the consequences in this way: While you’re cruising the oceans (or, for that matter, the Great Lakes), there’s a good chance once you leave a harbor, you have no idea what is beneath you. 

Not knowing the ocean floor has immense practical repercussions. Often, we can’t find sunken things. For example, lack of a seafloor map prevented searchers from finding Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in 2014.

The slow adoption of technology hindered floor mapping

Although efforts to map the ocean floor existed throughout time, they were crude until 75 years ago.

Up until that time, ships did mechanical soundings, such as when ships mapped the route of transatlantic cables in the 1860s. In those days, ships dropped lead attached to piano wire until it hit bottom. They winched up the wire and measured the length. Five hundred of these soundings by hand took over three years.

The actual scientific process of mapping the ocean floor (called bathymetry) finally began in 1957, using a crude type of sonar. Sonar mapping uses a kind of sonar beam that bounces sound waves off the ocean bottom. This tedious process required sonar-equipped boats to traverse every inch of the oceans. (Radar, bounced off satellites, would have been much faster, but sea water blocks radio waves.) 

Still, this early sonar was vastly more efficient than mechanical soundings. Today, as sonar is refined, multi-beam sonar ships can measure 500 soundings in one second.

This short YouTube video summarizes the history of seabed mapping.

Floor mapping has increased boating safety, knowledge of earth’s surface

Floor mapping has uncovered immense scientific knowledge about the earth’s surface, which is why the mapping effort is now on a fast track.

From the 20% we’ve mapped so far, here are some of the valuable things we’ve discovered:

  • The earth’s crust moves. Sonar mapping showed us the earth’s surface (under the oceans) consists of ever-moving plates. Their shifting (called plate tectonics) helps explain things like mountain ranges, volcanoes and earthquakes (tsunamis). 
  • The ocean’s deep! At its deepest (so far), the ocean is seven miles down, to 36,200 ft. at the bottom of the Challenger Deep gorge off Guam. That’s deeper than Mt. Everest is tall!
  • Surface disruptions are predictable, making boating safer. The shapes on the ocean floor and the movement of the earth’s plates give us some anticipation of disruptions and predictions for such things as tidal waves, a good thing for a mariner to know. Tectonics allow for volcano prediction, too. Take Tonga, for example. As recently as January 2022, eruptions in Tonga spewed volcanic ash 25 miles into the air, sending tsunami waves 49 ft. high across the Pacific, all the way to the United States. We had short notice, but enough to prevent shipping disasters. 
  • There’s plenty of room for all types of activity. The more we know about the ocean floor, the better we can segregate various marine activity, with room for everyone, and better protection of marine life. Mapping identifies the best places for mineral extraction, navigation, fishing, telecommunication cables and even defense systems. Separating them keeps most people happy.

Despite the complexity of our oceans and the task of mapping the bottom, the ocean floor is characterized by a limited number of disruptions. There are geologic scars (volcanic ridges, for example) human-made obstructions (shipwrecks), plus natural ridges, trenches and shelves. Otherwise, the floor itself is an amazingly flat plain.

Still more exciting discoveries will be made

Just recently, exploration of the seabed off Antarctica discovered ice fish, clear-blooded, almost transparent fish on the ocean floor that are the chief source of food for Weddell seals. Millions of them.

By the time the entire floor is mapped, scientists hope to better understand ocean circulation, tides and biological hotspots. According to Seabed 2030, the project provides “key inputs for navigation, climate change, forecasting tsunamis, exploration for oil and gas projects, building offshore wind turbines, fishing resources, and for laying cables and pipelines.” 

In just eight years, our knowledge of oceans will grow exponentially. Ultimately most important: accurate mapping will help us sustain the health of our oceans.


Has the Endeavor Been Found? See for Yourself!

February 8, 2022

Breaking News: February 3, remnants of Captain James Cook’s Endeavor, scuttled in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island 244 years ago, have been confirmed to be found!

Maybe.

Although still a disputed find, the ship appears to be the Endeavor

The truth of the discovery depends on whether you believe the Australian National Maritime Museum, which alerted the media to the find during a news conference in Sydney just days ago. Or, if you believe a contrary account by D.K. Abbass, executive director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, the lead group in the Newport Harbor study, who said immediately: “Not so fast!”

Captain Cook was born in 1755. He joined the Royal Navy as a teenager (just 17 years old) and became famous for mapping the St. Lawrence River during the Siege of Quebec. This led to his assignment on the Endeavor to map the South Pacific.

Abbass agreed the find of the Endeavor is likely but says they have yet to identify indisputable data: “And there are many unanswered questions.” 

Even within the context of the dispute, mariners are ecstatic at the possibility of having found the Endeavor. Maritime officials are securing the site.

Cook’s famous ship sailed him to his death

What makes the Endeavor so famous is that it was James Cook’s last ship, with incredible history behind it. Launched in 1764 as the Earl of Pembroke, it was soon renamed the Endeavor. Cook sailed it to Tahiti, charted the coastline of New Zealand (where his crew killed Indigenous Māori people), claimed Australia for Great Britain in 1770 and made it to Hawaii.

There the ship and Captain Cook’s legacy diverge. Cook was killed by Hawaiian natives. His dismembered body parts were boiled (but not eaten). The ship was renamed Lord Sandwich and sent to fight for the British in the American Revolution, where it purportedly sunk off Newport Harbor…and may just have been found more than two centuries later.

Curious to see it? You can be part of history!

While the archeological site may be off-limits, you can sail close to it.

Your guide should be an up-to-date nautical chart of Newport Harbor (see illustration with the wreck location marked in a red circle; the red circle does not appear on the actual chart). The ship is around 500 meters off the coast. For now, you can navigate near the wreck. While it sits 14 meters below the surface and is buried in sediment and silt, you’ll still be able to feel the spine-tingling excitement of being so close to history.

According to recent news accounts, during the Revolutionary War, the British also used the Endeavor as a prison ship. Then the boat was intentionally sunk in 1778 – along with 12 other vessels – to prevent an invasion and capture.

NOAA Nautical Chart 13223, available from OceanGrafix. The red circle identifies the Endeavor shipwreck site, but does not appear on the actual chart.

The three-masted bark was about 100 ft. long and 29 ft. at beam and carried four cannons and 12 swivel guns. Now around 15 percent of the wreckage remains, as researchers look to preserve what’s left of the vessel.

The Endeavour is believed to be located near the La Liberté, another sunken ship found in Newport Harbor.

The three-masted bark was about 100 ft. long and 29 ft. at beam and carried four cannons and 12 swivel guns. Now around 15 percent of the wreckage remains, as researchers look to preserve what’s left of the vessel.

The Endeavour is believed to be located near the La Liberté, another sunken ship found in Newport Harbor.


Yachting or Sailing Through the Incredible Panama Canal

February 2, 2022

You don’t have to be a passenger on an ocean freighter or sightseeing boat to go through the Panama Canal. In fact, personal watercraft of any size, whether yachts or sailboats, can pass through the Panama Canal. There is really no minimum size. In fact, the smallest “vessel” so far was a man, Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928. His toll was 36 cents. 

Those who have made the journey say it’s a trip of a lifetime: surreal, thrilling, stressful, awkward and euphoric.

Panama Canal. Covered by NGA Nautical Charts 21602, 21603, 21604 and 26068.

Still, you’ll need patience. Once you arrive at the starting city, you can apply for a transit date. Even in the best of times, you might have to wait four to six days to begin the journey. The actual canal trip itself takes about a day. It’s 50 miles long, through 12 locks.

You can go north, starting in Panama City, traveling from the Pacific to the Caribbean, or south, starting at Colon.

The sweet spot for traversing in a pleasure craft is December until mid-January, when lines are shortest. At other times, especially in heavy shipping season, you could face delays of a couple weeks. 

It’s not cheap!

You must pay a transit fee to pass through the canal and that cost depends in part on the length of your vessel. Other fees are fixed. Among the other charges is an agent fee, and this is critical. You must have an agent onboard (an employee of the Panama Canal Authority) who handles the paperwork, slots you into the queue, guides you on-board for the entire journey, rafts you with similar craft (or moors you to a tugboat or small cruise ship), and deals with any official challenges. Yet at the same time, your vehicle’s captain (not the Panama Canal agent) is responsible during transit for the safety of the craft, navigation, meals and beverages.

Here’s the fee breakdown:

  • Transit toll: $800 to $1300, depending on the length of the craft (fee categories are for vessels under 50 ft., 50-79 ft., 80-99 ft., and over 100 ft.)
  • Inspection fee: $184
  • Security fee: $130
  • Agent fee: $350 to $500 
  • Cruising permit: $200

Just to be safe, expect to pay a total of about $2,000 per craft.

Bring special gear…and patience

Plan for waiting several days to start the journey. During the wait, you’ll pay dock fees at local marinas (reserve them ahead of time).

You’ll need lines and fenders to maintain position as the water levels change. Managing the lines is tricky. The canal will offer line handlers for $100 each, unless you supply your own. 

While the docking and passage fees for your craft are expensive, be thankful you don’t need a tugboat to navigate the canal. They run $3,000 an hour.

Time while in the locks takes complete concentration

Passing through the locks is not a leisurely vacation, where you can sit on deck and watch the monkeys in the nearby forests. The journey takes the constant attention of the captain and line handlers.

Your craft is rising or falling while tethered to the canal walls. The water churns, creating currents that can twist the boat sideways, bringing you close to other craft. Line handlers need training. The goal is to maintain position as the distance to the cleats on the canal walls increases or decreases.

On deck of a sailboat passing through the Panama Canal locks. (Yachting World)

Even considering costs and hassles, it’s a trip of a lifetime

Even with the costs, paperwork, skill and patience needed to successfully navigate the Panama Canal, the trip itself is incredible. It’s a bucket list checkoff.

Watch this 1 ½ minute timelapse of the journey.

As you travel this engineering wonder of the world, you’ll see “mules” (more like heavy trucks on rails) pull and guide the ocean tankers. Twenty-six billion gallons of churning water raise or lower your craft during the crossing. You’ll pass Renacer Prison, which housed Panama dictator Manuel Noriega. You’ll see the world’s largest off-loading shipping crane. 

The natural wonders along the forests and bayous next to the canal include capuchin and spider monkeys, frigatebirds, brown-throated sloths, blue-footed boobys, tamarins and giant iguanas. Lake Gatun is full of crocodiles and manatees.

Finally, don’t forget the essentials (besides passports): sunscreen, hat and, most of all, a camera to record this trip of a lifetime.


Yacht and Sailboat Design Changes on the Horizon

January 21, 2022

When it comes to futuristic yacht and sailboat design changes, the future is here, now! Changes in technology, materials and liquid dynamics are reshaping boat designs and the boating experience, making boating safer and more fun. Here’s a look at changes coming to mainstream boating now and in the next few years.

YACHTING INTO THE FUTURE

Trends in yachting in 2022 and the future promise more comfort, more environmental sustainability and better efficiency. These changes can be enjoyed by everybody, from those who pilot superyachts all the way to those who pilot runabouts.

Less rocking and rolling

Gyroscope advances, primarily developed for space exploration, are being further adapted for boating. Their benefits translate into reduced boat jittery movement (up and down, side to side) by up to 95%. Combined with hull changes and more dramatic shock absorption, yachts with new gyroscopes can maintain their level in rough seas, reducing wear and tear on both the boats and the occupants.

Electric power

The battery technology developed by the automotive industry is bringing a “green” experience to yachting. Systems augmented by solar panels already power 33 to 68 feet boats at 3-5 knots, with diesel engines still necessary for power travel. Inboards and outboard engines with high-capacity DC charging are coming off the production line and hitting boat sales rooms. 

Big Boat Changes are Coming to Smaller Craft. The 2021 Candela 7 Electric Hydrofoil Speedboat runs 3-4 feet above the water, with zero emissions.

Electric boat power makes for a quieter journey, where the sounds of the water, birds and wind no longer are suppressed by the motor.

Reduced drag

Design and material changes are reducing weight and drag. Hull designs are moving toward more catamaran styles or foils to reduce contact with water. Carbon fiber materials are becoming more popular on traditional hulls, with less drag resistance than fiberglass. Foam core for interior hull structures is reducing weight and extending cruise ranges and speeds. What this means for pilots is less fuel, less structural failure and a quieter ride.

SAILBOATING CHANGES ARE COMING, TOO

Sailboat design changes are every bit as dramatic as yachting evolutions. Much of the innovation in sail boating is developed from ideas tested in the sail racing circuit and then applied to everyday sailing. Here are four of the top sailboat evolutions.

Hull design

Once racing rules relaxed, sailboat builders experimented with hull designs. For racers, “beamier” scow designs with more stern volume are becoming more popular because they reduce resistance when heeling, optimize waterline length and increase righting moment speed. Those who sail in lighter winds, or with motor support, are moving to spoon bows, whose decreased waterline area performs better at slower speeds. In short, hull changes for every type of sailing are becoming more dramatic.

Sail material

Carbon sails reduce stretch and increase efficiency.

Sail changes sound like something out of James Bond movies. Composite membrane sails are replacing the once popular Dacron. Many of these sails are 3-D printed. The new fabrics stretch less, wear longer, have better weight-to-stiffness ratios, heel less in comparable wind and better transfer wind power into forward drive with less fluttering and flapping on point changes. Plus, they’re quieter. New, inflatable wing sails self-align and reduce heeling as the sail falls to leeward. Some companies are offering carbon sails with sensors that provide helmsman and trimmers real-time performance data.

More foiling

Foiling takes airplane technology and adapts it to boating. Think of foils as wings. With stronger materials and nanotechnology, foils are available to sailboats that better control righting moment, reduce wetted surface and offer more lift. Retractable horizontal foils are helping to reduce weight midship.

Simplicity

Sailors have always been obsessed with orderliness on deck. The more organized the gear, the less chance for mistakes. Now, sailors are adding a new version: the less gear on deck, the lighter the sailboat. As more functions become automated and cloud-based, less equipment is needed onboard. New rope fibers, higher in strength and lower in diameter and weight, take up less space and perform better under high shock loads. Lighter, low friction rigging, like soft shackles, improve sail handling and reduce weight. 

These boating changes are just the beginning

As dramatic as some of these new boat design and material changes may seem, they will quickly become mainstream. Then, even more changes will be discovered and incorporated. Why? Rapid changes in material technology, faster adoption of high-performance boating gear to mainstream use, and greater ease in retrofitting will drive upgrades in boating in 2022 and for years to come. 


Why Mariners Use Knots Instead of Miles Per Hour

January 7, 2022

Why does a mariner (and, for that matter, an airplane pilot) measure their boat’s speed in knots, rather than miles per hour or kilometers per hour? The answer goes back to the 17th century and remains true today.

The nautical mile has two origins

The answer as to why mariners measure speed in knots evolved from both a strange custom of measuring speed and how the circumference of the earth was measured. 

In times dating back to at least the 1700s, captains measured their ship’s speed by tossing a long rope in the water with “knots” tied at even intervals. The rope had a wood chip at its end to hold it in place where it was tossed into the water. Then, the number of knots pulled off the stern in a given amount of time, based on a certain amount of sand flowing through an hourglass, were calculated as “knots per hour.”

Illustration of a ship’s knotted rope to measure speed.

Over time, this custom aligned with the second, more mathematical way in which a knot was calculated. When the earth’s circumference came to be measured in “minutes,” then 60 minutes made one degree of the earth’s 360-degree circumference. Coincidentally, the time it took to travel one minute of latitude in one hour became one knot. So, a knot is a measure of speed, not distance.

Thus, these equivalents evolved: a nautical mile became 1.15 statute miles (or 1.85 kilometers), or one minute of latitude, which is the distance a boat travels in one hour going one knot. 

While the measurement technique using rope knots dates to the 17th century, it wasn’t until 1954 that the U.S. adopted the exact measurement of the nautical mile. The U.K. didn’t come on board until 1970. Until then, each country had its own interpretation of what a speed of one nautical mile per hour meant.

The benefit of keeping with the knot measurement

Why haven’t the measurement gurus come together to decide on a uniform measurement for all travel (such as cars, boats, planes, and trains) in all cases?

The answer seems to have something to do with travel over the curvature of the earth. Cars and trains, known for shorter travel segments, use miles per hour or kilometers per hour. Boats and planes, which often travel longer distances affected by the earth’s curvature, use knots. Knots are a more accurate way of predicting how a boat (or a plane) traverses the face of the earth. That’s why nautical charts include and depend on longitude and latitude measurements. 

Because a nautical mile is longer than a statute mile, a ship going 20 knots is going 23 miles per hour. (Conversely, a small airplane going 173 miles per hour is traveling 150 knots.) If you are sailing in a hurricane, it may not matter to you whether the wind is blowing at a Beaufort 12, 78 mph, 124 kph or 68 knots. But mariners can more quickly understand conditions when stated in knots. Airspeed indicators on planes and boats show knots. Conveniently, the knot is used in meteorology, too.

Knots also are the preferred measurement for moving fluids, including water in rivers and oceans. Mariners are given the speed of a river current, wind speeds or tidal stream speeds in terms of knots, making it easier to calculate how their boat or ship must compensate for navigational direction.

And, of course, the numbers a boater sees on certain markers are in knots. For instance, a speed restriction buoy with the number “8” on it means speed in that area is restricted to 8 knots. 

For historical, astronomical, and meteorological reasons, then, the knot has become the standard for travel on our watery world, a standard that is likely to remain.