Waterway Rules 101

July 18, 2019

The open water, like the open road, symbolizes adventure and is the stuff of legend: white whales, old men, gargantuan sea monsters. But unlike the road, the water lacks lanes, traffic lights and signs to regulate everyone and create a common, agreed-upon flow. The water’s increased freedom comes with increased responsibility. With the ever-increasing diversity of boating vessels, especially during the highest traffic months of summer, safe navigation has never been more important.

Rule #1: Take a Safety Course—For Free!

Organizations such as the BoatU.S. Foundation or the United States Power Squadrons offer multiple boating safety courses. Taking a safety course will provide you with a solid foundation to understand the rules of the water.

Rule #2: Understand Right of Way

Understanding right of way on the water remains a key element in boating safety. But knowing who has the right of way on the water can be tricky, especially because boat speak is not the same as road speak. For example, if your vessel has the right of way, you’re the stand-on vessel. If not, you’re the give-way vessel and should allow the other boat to pass.

When it comes to right of way on the water, you need to consider the position of the vessel as well as its type and size and the surrounding waterscape. Typically, the least maneuverable vessel is designated the stand-on, such as a sailboat under sail or a commercial vessel. If you’re in a narrow channel or on a river and following another vessel, you’re the give-way vessel. You bear more responsibility should anything go wrong if you try to pass, hence why you’re also called the burdened vessel.

Rule #3: Ask for Permission, Not Forgiveness

It’s necessary to always ask for permission to pass another vessel when you’re the give way. To ask for permission, sound two short blasts. If you hear two short blasts back, you’ve got the thumbs up to pass on the (left) port side. Should you hear five blasts back or nothing at all, consider your permission denied. The vessel in front of you may have access to information about water conditions or safety you don’t have access to like a person overboard, wreckage or fishing equipment.

Rule #4: Be a Self-Proclaimed Crossing Guard

If you find yourself in a situation where you could collide with another vessel if neither of you changes course, follow these guidelines:

  • If the vessel is on your (right) starboard side, that vessel is the stand on and has the right of way to cross in front of you.
  • If the other vessel is on the (left) port side, you’re the stand on and must pass in front of the other vessel.
  • If you’re meeting a vessel head on, both of you should steer to the right so you can pass each other safely portside to portside.
  • If nobody seems to know what they are doing, play it safe and give way.

Rule #5: Obey the ATONs

Aids to Navigation (or ATONs for short) include buoys, day and radio beacons, lights, lighthouses, fog signals, marks and other objects used for communication and signage. They help determine a vessel’s position and chart a safe course. They can notify boaters of restrictions or dangers such as designated activity areas, dams or speed limits. Just like street signs, they should be obeyed for everyone’s safety and enjoyment.





Top Boating Safety Tips

July 12, 2019

Every year National Safe Boating Week puts safety front and center. But safety isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal—it’s before, during and after each and every jaunt on the open water. As a tribute to 24/7/365 safety, we’ve gathered a roundup of the top five boating safety tips you can use any time.

Tip #1: Always Wear a Life Vest!

The National Safe Boating Council says, “We believe wearing a life jacket is the simplest way to ensure the safety of you and your family while enjoying a day on the water.” According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2017 Recreational Boating Safety Statistics, drowning was the cause of 76 percent of all 658 boating fatalities. Of these, 84.5 percent were not wearing life vests.

Why should everyone wear a life jacket? Because crazy things like getting knocked unconscious can occur. No matter what happens, a life vest will float…every time. For more on finding the right life vest for your water activity, click here.

Tip #2: Take a Boating Safety Course

Not only will you learn valuable, life-saving skills, you may also save money on your boat insurance. The U.S. Coast Guard’s list includes boating safety courses offered throughout the nation for all types and ages of boaters. You’ll learn everything from boat handling to weather reading to electronic navigation skills. Whether you’re sailing, windsurfing, powerboating, or leisurely fishing, a boating safety course can provide you with the knowledge and skills to handle nearly any situation.

Tip #3: Check the Weather

The weather can change drastically from one minute to the next, especially on the water. Before you plan to head out, know the current marine weather forecast and keep checking it. You’ll want to know the temperature both in and out of the water, especially if you plan to swim or dive. If you plan to boat during the winter, you’ll need to dress appropriately to stay not only warm but dry as well.

Tip #4: Beware of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent killer. Odorless and colorless, it can strike if someone inhales too much of it. Gas-powered engines and generators produce CO, so it’s especially important to have a working CO detector on board, never block exhaust outlets and keep a minimum of 20 feet between your vessel and others. For more information on how you can prevent CO poisoning, click here.

Tip #5: Communicate

In the event of an emergency, a communication device could be the difference between life and death. You should have two waterproof communication devices, such as a satellite phone and a VHF radio with Digital Selective Calling. Cell phones are not reliable enough for boating.




How to Prepare for Hurricane Season

July 8, 2019

2019 hurricane season has officially begun: it started May 15th for the Eastern Pacific Ocean and June 1st for the Atlantic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 2019 hurricane forecast on May 23rd, predicting that this year will be near normal. Scientists at Colorado State University anticipate two major hurricanes at or above Category 3 in the Atlantic.

Rather than wait and hope for the best, wise boaters in hurricane-prone areas should prepare well in advance of impending storms.

Store Wisely

The easiest way to avoid losing your boat during a hurricane is to store it in the most “storm-worthy location possible.” Boats stored on land tend to fare better than those kept in the water. But simply hauling a boat inland is not enough. Strap your boat down to a secure anchor with little or no stretch so that the boat can’t rock, which could work jack stands out of position or be blown over. Opt for the highest ground possible.

If you must store your boat on the water, choose a marina that is well-protected with floating docks and tall pilings. Floating docks and 16- to 18-foot pilings allow boats to move with rising and falling waves without stretching or stressing lines.

Anchor Properly

You’ll want to use long lines that can allow your boat to move with water surges. Helix anchors, which screw into the seafloor, can hold between 12,000 and 20,000 pounds. You may also need to set multiple anchors to keep the boat from swinging as the wind changes.

Know Your Responsibilities

Even if you store your boat at a marina or storage facility, the responsibility to prep for the storm may be yours. Make sure you’ve closely read your contract and ask the dock or facility about their hurricane plan. If you don’t live near your boat, you may be able to join a “Hurricane Club” that can haul your boat to a safer location and/or provide you with a professional hurricane plan.

“Preparing ahead of a disaster is the responsibility of all levels of government, the private sector, and the public,” said Daniel Kaniewski, Ph.D., FEMA deputy administrator for resilience. “It only takes one event to devastate a community so now is the time to prepare. Do you have cash on hand? Do you have adequate insurance, including flood insurance? Does your family have communication and evacuation plans? Stay tuned to your local news and download the FEMA app to get alerts, and make sure you heed any warnings issued by local officials.”




This Little Red Button Saves Lives

April 5, 2019

While most of us rely on our cell phones for pretty much everything these days, they simply won’t cut it on the open water. A VHF marine radio remains the most versatile and efficient communication device for your boat by broadcasting messages to other vessels in the area. VHF’s reliable power source and high transmitter power make it an ideal communication tool for all boaters. Required by law, VHF enables collective safety, collaboration, and assistance for everyone on the water.

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) has drastically increased the importance of VHR radio. Now standard on devices made within the past 15 years, DSC enables you to accurately relay essential information—your name, your boat’s name, your location, and the nature of your emergency—with the push of a few buttons to all vessels within the signal range radius. Coordinated with your GPS receiver, DSC provides your exact coordinates to ensure help arrives quickly, drastically increasing the speed and reliability of distress calls. DSC also allows boats to communicate in non-emergencies with other vessels and shore stations for position reports and other routine calls, freeing up channel 16 for essential Coast Guard emergency calling.

In order to take advantage of DSC, though, you’ve got to set it up correctly before emergency strikes:

  1. Confirm your VHF radio is DSC equipped. Most have a red “distress” button. If you don’t see one, your radio is older than 2004 and you should likely upgrade to a newer model.
  2. Register your Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), which is like a phone number for your boat. Recreational boaters can register at Sea Tow, BoatUS or US Power Squadrons.
  3. Follow your radio’s instruction manual to set up the DSC with your MMSI number.
  4. Connect the radio to your GPS.
  5. If it proves to be too challenging to set up the DSC and connect to GPS, seek help from a more experienced boater or hire a professional. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
A lot can go wrong out on the water: fire, flooding, collision, sinking, man overboard, lost steering and even piracy. But with a DSC-enabled VHF radio on deck, you’ll know help is one little red button away.




Safety First

April 1, 2019

Maybe you fancy yourself a good or even expert swimmer. When it comes to boating, however, perceived swimming ability should be left on the dock. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 76% of annual boating deaths occur due to drowning. Of the victims, almost 85% were not wearing a life jacket, two-thirds of whom were considered strong swimmers. If the numbers have anything to say, it’s this: safety first. The U.S. Coast Guard requires each boat to have approved, wearable life jackets on board for every person on the boat; however, safety advocates recommend that everyone wears a life jacket at all times because accidents can happen in a split second. Time wasted trying to first find stowed life jackets and then put them on can mean the difference between life and death.

Life jacket technology, fashion and comfort has come a long way since the old days of bulky, neon orange vests. Life jackets come in all shapes and sizes and are for various purposes—even for pets!

Form is Function

The type of boating activity you’re doing will dictate the kind of life jacket you’ll want.

For fishing, you’ll want to find jackets that are lightweight and minimize discomfort while casting. You might also opt for models with ample pockets for tackle and D-rings for clippers. Manual inflation allows you to inflate at the pull of a cord so you can wade or fish in rain or spray without the bulk.

A sport life jacket will allow you maximum movement with roomy armholes, slimmer straps, a shorter body length and less torso bulk. They also tend to come in bright, swanky colors so your wake double flip will look even cooler.

For chilly waters and offshore cruising, opt for the head-to-toe coverage of an immersion or Gumby suit that covers your full body, like a wet suit but with the added benefits of keeping you afloat and protecting you from hypothermia for up to 6 hours. Most come in red or orange and are adorned with retro-reflective to attract rescue attention. Some suits also come with a built-in emergency torch, whistle and tagline.

For your four-legged friends, go for a design with a handle on the back to easily pull the animal out of the water if needed.

Ensure a Proper Fit

Like Goldilocks, you’re looking for a “just right” or snug fit, but nothing too large or too small:

  • Fasten the jacket properly Secure all straps, buckles and/or zippers
  • Hold your arms straight up overhead and ask a friend to gently pull up on the top of the arm openings
  • Be sure that children wear kid-sized life jackets as adult sizes won’t work for them

Maintain Your Life Jacket’s Life

Just as important as choosing the right jacket and ensuring a proper fit is life jacket care. Always refer to the owner’s manual for specific maintenance requirements. Here are some common care tips to always keep in mind:

  • Use properly
  • Watch out for rips, water-logging or mildew (if you see of these things, it’s best to discard and get a new life jacket)
  • Dry thoroughly after each use
  • Hand wash in mild detergent
  • Store in a dry place when not in use

As Kelli Toth of the Alaska Office of Boating Safety said, “Wearing a life jacket is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of wisdom.” Do the responsible thing: wear a life jacket whenever you’re on the water.




Lake Champlain’s Role in the War of 1812

January 30, 2019

In the War of 1812, the United States confronted the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain. Sometimes called the Second War of Independence, the war began because of trade restrictions Britain imposed on America and France during the Napoleonic Wars. The United Kingdom had been capturing U.S. trade ships and impressing them into the British navy against their will. In addition, the United Kingdom had been increasing tensions between Native American tribes and the U.S. government to reduce further western expansion.

American forces launched a three-point invasion into Canada, a British territory, that year but failed miserably. By April 1814, Napoleon’s hold on France waned, which enabled the British to reassign troops to America. In August of that year, the Brits took hold of Washington, D.C., burning the White House as well as the Capitol and other buildings in retaliation for burnings of Canadian buildings by U.S. troops.

Canada’s Commander in Chief, Lieutenant-General Sir George Prévost, was authorized to launch offensives into American territory. Prévost opted to attack via the Richelieu River into Lake Champlain. To spare Vermonters, who often traded with the British, a seat of war, Prévost advanced down the western side of the lake to the American position at Plattsburgh, New York. Despite American attempts to slow the British, the Brits continued to advance and skirmish. The Americans withdrew to Plattsburgh Bay, forcing the British to engage at close range to level the playing field against Britain’s superior navy. Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough prepared the American forces to fight at anchor.

On the morning of September 11, 1814, the British squadron rounded Cumberland Head. Due to the light and variable wind that day, the British could not maneuver where they intended and suffered increasing damages from the American ships. British Captain George Downie led the attack but was killed early on in the battle. After several hours of fighting, the British surrendered. Prévost canceled the land battle, and the British armies retreated to Canada.

This American victory led to the end of the War of 1812. On Christmas Eve, 1814, the British and Americans signed the Treaty of Ghent in Belgium, formally ending the war and establishing the boundary between Canada and the United States. Although the treaty did not remark on the two main issues that caused the war (the rights of the U.S. vessels and the impressment of U.S. sailors), it opened the Great Lakes region to American expansion.

You can commemorate this American naval and diplomatic victory with NOAA Nautical Chart 14782, Cumberland Head to Four Brothers Island.




Why Seafloor Mapping Matters

January 23, 2019

Humanity knows less about the deep sea floor than it does the moon or Mars “despite the fact that we have yet to extract a gram of food, a breath of oxygen or a drop of water from those bodies,” said Canadian oceanographer Paul Snelgrove. Even after centuries of mapping the ocean floor, less than 20% is currently understood.

Yet with such limited knowledge, scientists have already made major discoveries. The ocean is home to a mountain, Challenger Deep, that is taller than Mount Everest by 7,000 feet and has canyons rivaling the Grand Canyon. This topography is home to some of the world’s most bizarre creatures due to the ecosystem’s extremes–near-freezing temperatures, crushing pressures, and lack of light–which have caused distinct evolutionary adaptations. For example, the vampire squid is able to live and breathe in water with oxygen as low as 3%, a feat few other animals possess.

As Robert D. Ballard, who discovered the Titanic wreckage in 1985, said, the seafloor must be mapped for its “unexpected discoveries.” The ocean floor is Earth’s last frontier and mapping it will have a major impact on global environmental health as well as the economy in the years to come.

The Economic Case
Three billion people rely on fish as a source of protein. “The Blue Economy” provides the equivalent of 31 million full-time jobs and is valued at $1.5 trillion annually. The ocean floor may be the next frontier for oil, gas, and minerals. Rare earth metals found in deep sea alloys are used in ubiquitous devices from cell phones to rechargeable batteries to fluorescent lighting. Miles of underwater cable connects billions to the worldwide web. Understanding underwater geo-hazards can help navies prevent accidents like the USS San Francisco that collided with an unknown underwater mountain in 2005. Moreover, understanding wave energy and tsunami propagation can help keep coastal populations safe and even convert wave energy into electrical energy.

The Environmental Case
Understanding the shape of the ocean’s beds can help scientists understand ocean circulation patterns that affect water temperature and salinity and determine weather and climate conditions. That’s important because extreme weather and rising water temperatures put natural and human ecosystems at risk. As the lifeblood of the Blue Planet, the oceans produce more than half of the atmosphere’s oxygen, absorb most carbon from it, and help distribute the sun’s heat throughout the world. Understanding the sea terrain is integral to conservation.

A project launched at the United Nations Ocean Conference in 2017, Seabed 2030, aims to map the entire ocean floor by 2030, beginning with the ocean deeper than 200 meters, and make the data available to all. The project draws on the experience of some 40 international organizations, networks spread across more than 50 countries, and private companies.