Plastic Free July: A Growing Global Movement

June 20, 2018


Have you heard about Plastic Free July?

What started off as International Plastic Bag Free Day (observed every year on July 3) is now part of a growing global movement to end plastic pollution.

In addition to crowding landfills, plastic waste pollutes our oceans, threatens sea life, and contaminates groundwater. Sadly, nearly 90% of the debris in our oceans is plastic, including massive floating islands of plastic waste hundreds of miles long.

You probably already know that single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment. Perhaps you even bring reusable canvas bags with you to the grocery store. The growing number of consumers using reusable bags is a good first step to reducing plastic waste.

But what about when you stop at the hardware store? Or pop into a convenience store on the way home from work? Do you bring a reusable bag for that type of shopping, too? According to the Earth Policy Institute, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide each year. That’s nearly 2 million every minute! With that in mind, consider these statistics:

  • Plastic bags are typically used for 25 minutes or less
  • A plastic bag can take between 100 to 1,000 years to break down in the environment

But single-use plastic bags are only part of the problem. According the National Park Service, Americans use 5 million plastic straws every day. Every day! What’s more, plastic bottles are one of the most commonly found items on the ocean’s surface. If you want to help protect our oceans from plastic pollution, resolving not to use any single-use plastic during month of July is a great first step. To learn more, visit BreakFreeFromPlastic.org.

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How to Spot Someone Who’s (Silently) Drowning

May 16, 2018

As you gear up for a summer of fun on the water, reading a blog post about drowning is probably not at the top of your “fun things to do” list. But it could be lifesaving.

The information below is a brief summary of an eye-opening, in-depth article by Mario Vittone.

First, a few sobering facts:

  • Drowning is the number two cause of accidental death in children ages 15 and under.
  • Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult.
  • In 10% of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.

Drowning looks different than you may think.

Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., coined the term “Instinctive Drowning Response” to describe how people’s bodies react when they are drowning. Here are a few things that may surprise you:

DROWNING PEOPLE RARELY CALL OUT FOR HELP: A drowning person’s mouth is not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale and call out for help.

DROWNING PEOPLE CANNOT WAVE FOR HELP. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

DROWNING HAPPENS FAST: People can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

NOTE: If you DO see someone thrashing, yelling and waving for help, they are likely experiencing aquatic distress—which can briefly precede Instinctive Drowning Response. People in this stage can still grab a lifeline and help in their own rescue. Once a person has gone into Instinctive Drowning Response, however, they need to be rescued by a trained lifeguard.

10 signs that someone is drowning:

  1. Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  2. Head tilted back with mouth open
  3. Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  4. Eyes closed
  5. Hair over forehead or eyes
  6. Not using legs
  7. Hyperventilating or gasping
  8. Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  9. Trying to roll over onto the back
  10. Appears to be climbing an invisible ladder

Watch this video to see what drowning really looks like: Recognize the Signs of Drowning

Be Safe This Summer! According to the CDC, two of the main factors that affect drowning risk are alcohol use and failure to wear life jackets.

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Ship Markings and What They Mean

May 3, 2018

A recent article in Hakai magazine grabbed our attention with its enticing title: “The Secret Language of Ships.” The piece explains the meaning of the various signs and symbols that are printed on the sides of commercial ships. It also includes beautiful photos, worthy of a coffee table book. We recommend taking a look.

Here’s a brief rundown of what those mysterious markings and symbols mean:

IDENTITY INFO: Most commercial ships have the following information on the stern:

  • Name of company that owns the ship
  • Name of the ship
  • Port or “flag” that the ship sails under (70% of commercial ships don’t sail under their own country’s flag!)
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO) number

LOAD LINES: The following letters and markings indicate the maximum load a ship can carry:

  • A circle with a horizontal line through it: Known as the “Plimsoll line,” it disappears underwater if the ship is carrying too much weight.
  • To the right of the circle, another collection of letters and lines shows the maximum load the ship can carry under various climatic conditions (because different condition affect the ship’s buoyancy). Again, if the line disappears underwater, the load is too heavy for that specific weather condition. Here’s what each letter means:
    • W = winter temperate seawater
    • S = summer temperate seawater
    • T = tropical seawater
    • F = fresh water
    • TF = tropical fresh water

BULBOUS BOW: Some ships are designed with a protrusion low on the bow, which can sometimes be completely submerged. A white symbol that looks the numeral five without the top line (or sometimes, like the numeral three), alerts tugboats to be aware of the “bulbous bow.”

BOW THRUSTER: A white circle with an “X” inside indicates the ship is equipped with a bow thruster, which helps the boat maneuver sideways. The position of the bow thruster is shown as well (e.g. “BT/FP” would indicate a location between the ballast tank and the forepeak).

DRAFT MARKS: Numbers arranged in a vertical line—located on both sides of the ship—measure the distance between the bottom of the hull and the waterline. These numbers can be used to determine if the ship is overloaded and/or listing to one side.

SAFE WORKING LOAD: Tugboats fasten lines to strong posts on a ship, called bitts. White arrows point to the location of the bitts. Letters and numbers next to the bitts indicate the maximum pulling pressure (i.e. “safe working load”) the tug should exert as it helps the ship brake or negotiate docking.

PILOT BOARDING MARK: Just before a ship comes into port, a maritime pilot will ride out to take over for the captain. A white rectangle with a yellow border lets the pilot know where to board the ship.

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Emergency Preparedness for Boaters: 6 Steps You Can Take in the Off-Season

February 8, 2018

Day dreaming about boating season? As you plot and plan for a summer of fun and adventure, it’s also a good time to ensure you’ll be well prepared in case of an accident or emergency.

As the saying goes: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Here are 6 emergency preparedness steps you can take now—as you patiently (!) await the start of the season:
  1. Check basic safety requirements. Learn whether your boat meets minimum federal and state safety requirement by getting a vessel safety check from a member of the U.S. Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. It’s free!
  2. Determine your needs. Beyond the minimum safety requirements, make sure your safety gear and related devices are adequate for the type of boat you have and the type of excursions you’re planning to take. You may need to go beyond the prescribed minimums (you might want to check out our safety whistle and rescue streamer).
  3. Check your PFDs. Make sure you have enough PFDs for your family and other boating companions. Inspect and test inflatable life jackets for viability. If you have growing kids, make sure their life jackets still fit!
  4. Create a checklist. Create a checklist of inspection and maintenance tasks. Remember that many items must be inspected and maintained regularly to ensure they will be reliable if/when you need them.
  5. Familiarize your crew. Make sure your regular crew (yourself included!) knows how to operate—and where to find—each piece of safety equipment. That includes everything from fire extinguishers, lifelines, and bilge pumps to distress signals and VHF-FM marine radios.
  6. Learn (or review) CPR/First Aid: Take a Coast Guard-approved course in first aid and CPR and encourage your family and/or crew to do the same. If you’re already certified, take some time to review your training.

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6 Tips and Tricks for Winter Boaters

January 23, 2018

Boating season? Pshaw!

If you’re the type of boater who hits the water all year round, you need to consider a number of issues that don’t apply to regular “boating season” folks.

Here are 6 key tips and tricks to keep you—and your boat—safe and sound on the winter waters.

1. Pack like a winter warrior.

  • You may not be attempting to summit Mount Everest, but you still need to take precautions against hypothermia. If you get wet in sub-freezing temperatures, your ability to get (and stay) warm can be a matter of life and death. Be sure to pack hand and foot warmers, a thermos with hot soup or a hot drink, an extra change of warm clothes (including gloves and dry socks), and anything else you may need to warm up fast.
  • If you’re a skier or snowboarder, you know goggles work much better than sunglasses to protect your eyes from the wind and cold. While you may not need to wear ski goggles for your entire boating excursion, it’s a good idea to bring a pair as backup protection from the biting wind.

2. Be storm-informed. Even if you live (and boat) in a place where winters are typically mild, it’s critical to be storm ready at all times. Make sure you’re well informed: sign up for alerts, and check the latest weather, water and tidal conditions before you head out on the water.

3. Carry an EPIRB.  As noted above, it’s important to be storm-informed. But despite your best efforts to avoid going on the water in bad weather, conditions can change rapidly. As such, winter boaters should carry a registered Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) for marine use and know how to use it.

4. Swap your life vest for float coat. Whenever you’re on the water, you should wear a personal flotation device (PFD). But in the winter, wearing a life vest along with your winter clothes can be pretty uncomfortable. A float coat is the perfect solution. These heavy-duty jackets have foam floatation built into the body and arms. The PFD insulation doesn’t just keep you afloat; it also adds a layer of warm insulation. In fact, many high quality float coats will keep you as warm as a winter parka.

5. Keep your battery topped up.  The last thing you want when you head out for a winter excursion is to find your boat’s battery weak or dead. To ensure you battery is well-charged, even after sitting idly for weeks in cold temperatures, keep it on a one-amp trickle-charge at all times.

6. Protect your plumbing.  Just like the plumbing in your house, you need to make sure any pipes or hoses on your boat don’t freeze in the winter—and subsequently burst or crack. Any accessories (like livewells, for example)—that don’t have seacocks to cut them off—can quickly fill up and freeze while you’re on the water. To prevent this, plug such accessories from the inside before you launch.

NOTE: In addition to these winter boating tips, be sure to take all your normal boating safety precautions, like filing a float plan with friends and family; creating a plan of action in case of an emergency or accident; and making sure your emergency supply kit is up to date.

Mapping the Fabled Northwest Passage

December 15, 2017

When Sarah Porter, a fourth-year student at the Marine Institute, was offered the opportunity to map the Northwest Passage this summer, she jumped at the chance.

“I was on a work term with the Centre for Applied Ocean Technology when my supervisor, Kirk Regular, offered me the opportunity to partner with the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) to survey through the Northwest Passage using their new shallow water multibeam system, Norbit,” said Ms. Porter. “As a student, I was so fortunate to have been trusted with such an incredible project.”

The fabled passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic, is one of the most unexplored areas of the ocean floor. Indeed, the last nautical chart production for the Northwest Passage is dated 1957.

As an ocean mapping and bachelor of technology student, Ms. Porter was well suited for the task. During the 28-day expedition, her job was to mobilize the Norbit system on a small boat and collect data during stops in Pond Inlet, Bellot Strait, and Cambridge Bay.

“To take a system, get familiar with it and its software, take it to the North and to survey areas that are unknown, with no charts, was an incredible experience,” she said.

Ms. Porter hopes the data she collected will be published at some point—and used to benefit boating activity in the North.

When the Northwest Passage was discovered in the mid-1800s, it was expected to provide a major shipping shortcut from Europe to Asia. Until recently, however, the presence of thick, year-round sea ice made the route virtually impassable—and extremely dangerous.

Today, however, average annual temperatures in the Arctic are warming, and the sea ice is melting. As a result, open water in the Northwest Passage is beginning earlier in the year and lasting longer. Although the passage is still not practical or safe for commercial shipping, there has been a recent increase in “destinational” traffic—small boats, private yachts, and occasional cruise ships.

As the ice continues to melt in the Northwest Passage, and vessel traffic continues to increase, sea floor mapping will play a crucial role—both for the safety of mariners and the health of the environment.

“I love the ocean and I really enjoy discovering the unknown underneath,” said Ms. Porter. “I think it’s crucial to know what our sea floor is all about.”

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My Favorite Chart Format

December 4, 2017

Bob Sweet, Senior Navigator

So many charts! So many formats! How do you choose?

Selecting the right charts to cover your route is only half the battle. Once that’s done, you need to choose your formats. Do you want your charts rolled or would you rather have them folded? Mapfold, trifold or folio? Waterproof or water-resistant?

It’s nice to have choices. But too many options can be paralyzing.

In the end, we just need a format that works the way we want, when we want it. Something that’s easy to pick out and use.

I’ve used all the chart formats for various situations, but there is one format that sticks out way ahead of the others. OceanGrafix calls it the “Small Format” chart.

Five Reasons to Love the Small Format Chart:

  1. SIZE: At 21-inches wide, small format charts are perfect for use at the helm, on a chart table, or even on your lap. Even though the width is less than the full-size NOAA charts (which are typically 36 inches), you need not worry that information is missing. The small format chart is split and printed on both sides, with a large overlap. To find the rest, just flip it over.
  2. SCALE: They are not rescaled like the charts you’ll find in chartbooks and many waterproof formats. Small format charts are full size—which means the scale is consistent with your plotting tools. They are also easy to read, with no squinting to read reduced-size copy.
  3. FOLD: Small format charts come pre-folded like a map, which is great for a couple reasons. Closed, the title and chart number are right on the top, so it’s easy to pick out the one you want. Plus, you can stack a whole bunch of charts in a relatively small space—and quickly pull out just what you need.
  4. DESIGN: They are flip-fold—and printed North-up, with the long dimension along the shoreline—so you can open up the chart to just where you need it. Assuming you’re running along the shore, the small format chart will always unfold along your path.
  5. PAPER: Printed on quality, water-resistant paper, these are durable charts. You can write on them to plot courses or make notes (which you can’t do on your chartplotter)—or just glance ahead for interesting places to view or visit. And because they aren’t printed until you order them, they always have the latest information.

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