Ship Tracking Websites and Apps Help Avoid Major Collisions

November 17, 2022

Thanks to the continued refinement of technology that began in the 1990s, mariners can keep an eye on shipping vessels to avoid collisions or to track a certain craft.

Ships are tracked in real time by a special radar system called Automated Identification System (AIS). The system identifies the type of ship, its location and, if moving, its direction and speed. The data is posted on websites and mobile apps to allow mariners to track traffic to enhance safety as they chart their course. In addition, ports use tracking for safety and surveillance. 

A brief history of AIS begins with the grounding of Exxon Valdez

In the United States, the history of AIS began on March 24, 1989, with the oil tanker Exxon Valdez running aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. As a result of the grounding, and oil spill, the United States Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA-90), part of which called for the Coast Guard to develop a vessel tracking system for tankers going into Alaska. 

Subsequently, worldwide tracking laws were created by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU). By 2016, full AIS regulations went into effect worldwide, with AIS being required on all commercial vessels, including fishing vessels and passenger vessels 65 feet or longer. Vessels must continuously broadcast their identity and position over public airwaves using unencrypted VHS radio signals.

Tracking of vessels is easy and fast using your mobile phone

The AIS data is free and unrestricted, so companies have created websites and phone apps that communicate worldwide ship information in real time. An example is Shiptracker.live, one of several top-rated ship tracking websites. The site allows the user to monitor marine traffic in real time or find a specific vessel.

The image below, taken from the website, shows marine traffic on the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico:

All vessels are shown in their position and direction. Those colored red are tankers, while green represents cargo vessels. Purple vessels are pleasure craft, light blue vessels are tugs and special craft, and those colored dark blue are passenger vessels. 
This screen grab from shiptracker.live shows data when you click on a specific boat icon. In this case, the pop-up shows a photo of the tanker, its name, the next port, ETA, speed and country under which it is registered. 

A further click on the “More info” tab reveals more detailed data, as shown below.

The more detailed information on the vessel includes a listing of its port calls.

Ship-tracking websites and apps offer choices and features

Here is a brief list of some of the many ship-tracking websites and apps, starting with websites:

Marine-Traffic. Marine-Traffic records at least 800 million vessel positions and 18 million vessel and port-related events monthly. In addition, it offers information on about 650,000 marine assets such as vessels, ports, and lights.

FleetMon. The site tracks 500,000 vessels, with a real-time view of the marine traffic and access information on operations monitoring, logistics scheduling, fleet tracking and traffic analysis.

Cruisemapper. This website not only tracks thousands of cruise ships, but includes information on their deck layouts, cabin options and whether they’ve had accidents or incidents.

The top tracking mobile apps include (by operating system):

Android and iOS:

MarineTraffic. 

Android:

Linxup, VT Explorer, VesselFinder and SeaRM360. 

iOS:

MarineTraffic, Boat Watch and Ship Finder.

Ship locator apps enhance boating safety 

These new ship-finder websites and apps help pleasure craft avoid collisions, particularly with large ships, no matter what the visibility or weather. But remember, the apps are not a substitute for safe boating among other pleasure craft. In these cases, basic adherence to U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules still applies: watch your speed, keep a constant lookout, and remember the rule when approaching head-on, which is to alter course to starboard, so each vessel passes port to port.


Marine Sanctuaries Offer Stunning Views, Rare Species, Historic Wrecks

October 26, 2022
U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries Celebrate 50 years of Ocean Conservation. See lists, descriptions, locations, resources and navigational charts of the 15 U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries, now celebrating 50 years of conservation.
Humpback Whales diving and feeding with sea lions in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary

What’s so special about Monterey Bay?

Monterey Bay is one of 15 National Marine Sanctuaries in the U.S., overseen by NOAA and celebrating 50 years as of 2022. The list is growing, with four more sanctuaries being proposed.

If Monterey Bay is any indication, these national marine sanctuaries are incredibly special. Monterey Bay is one of our nation’s largest national marine sanctuaries, bigger than Yellowstone National Park. Offshore canyons reach 12,743 ft. in depth. In its waters live 36 species of marine mammals and 525 species of fish, which give the area the nickname Serengeti of the Sea.

The designation gives the federal government rights to regulate, permit, assess and restore damage as well as enforce regulations in a coordinated effort to preserve these marine environments.

A rundown of the 15 sanctuaries, with mariner chart references

You can navigate to and experience each of these marine wonders. All charts are available at OceanGrafix.

National Marine Sanctuaries span the U.S. waters.
Photo credit: NOAA Marine Sanctuaries 

West Coast Region

Olympic Coast. Spanning Olympic National Park, Puget Sound and much of Washington State’s coast. (NOAA nautical charts 1803, 18400, 18500)

Cordell Bank. North of San Francisco, known for bird and whale watching. (NOAA nautical chart 18640)

Greater Farallones. Adjacent to and north of San Francisco, with fishing, shipwrecks and rocky intertidal areas. (NOAA nautical chart 18640)

Monterey Bay. See description above. (NOAA nautical chart 18680)

Channel Islands. Includes five of the eight Channel Islands, with two major ocean currents and breathtaking scenery just 100 miles from Los Angeles. (NOAA nautical chart 18720)

Pacific Islands Region

Hawaii Humpback Whale. Protects these whales during mating season and encourages viewing from November through April. (NOAA nautical chart 19004)

American Samoa. The eastern portion of the archipelago in Polynesia. The only U.S. territory south of the equator. (NGA nautical chart 83010)

Northeast and Great Lakes Region

Thunder Bay.  Protects nearly 100 historic shipwrecks in Lake Huron off the Michigan coast.  (NOAA nautical chart 14961)

Stellwagen Bank. Offers whale watching and shipwrecks. (NOAA nautical chart 13267)

Monitor. Protects the wreck of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. (NOAA nautical chart 12222)

Mallows Bay – Potomac River. Protects and interprets the remnants of more than 100 World War I-era wooden steamships – known as the “Ghost Fleet.” (NOAA nautical chart 12288)

Wisconsin-Shipwreck Coast. Shipwrecks off the west coast of Lake Michigan. (NOAA nautical chart 14903)

Southeast Region

Gray’s Reef. Off of Savannah, Georgia, and Sapelo Island, known for wildlife viewing and fishing. (NOAA nautical chart 11509)

Florida Keys. Fishing, dolphin watching, diving, the Keys have it all.  (NOAA nautical charts 11441, 11445, 11446, 11449, 11453, 11463, 11464)

Flower Garden Banks. Coral viewing by snorkel or scuba diving (be sure to sanitize your gear). (NOAA nautical chart 11300) 

Start your visit with the information-rich sanctuary’s website

NOAA’s sanctuary website has all the information you need to plan a visit to any one of these national marine sanctuaries. You’ll find marine forecasts, responsible recreation practices, visitor accessibility resources and an events calendar. Many have visitor centers.

Boating along the waters of a sanctuary is just one way to experience it. NOAA encourages an immersive experience, including:

  • Diving / Snorkeling
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Paddle Sports
  • Surfing
  • Whale Watching
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Tide pooling
  • Heritage Trails
  • Stewardship

To whet your appetite, you can take virtual tours of some of the sanctuaries, such as Flower Garden Banks, Stellwagen Bank and Cordell Bank, all available on the NOAA sanctuaries website.


Owning a Boat: Suddenly a Great Investment

October 3, 2022

Owning a boat is costly. While it’s a labor of love, it hasn’t been considered a good investment. All that changed with the pandemic. Boating’s popularity surged and values have increased.

Actually, the increasing trend in boat ownership began after the recession in 2008 and has grown each year since 2010 (see chart). But the COVID pandemic added a big boost, with two new reasons to buy a boat:

  1. Being out on the water with friends and family was viewed as safe
  2. As demand grew, boats began to appreciate in value, making them a good investment, especially if they are well maintained and made by a manufacturer with a solid brand.

New trends continue to make boats solid long-term investment

To make sense of the current rapid rise in the value of boats, think of some of these five trends:

1. Lack of inventory

Boat sellers can’t get enough boats. Many are taking orders that won’t be fulfilled until well into 2023. Boat builders are waiting for high-tech chip boards just as are auto manufacturers.

2. More available cash

High-end buyers have cut back on traditional vacations and spending, leaving them with more money for luxury purchases, like boats. 

3. More new buyers

Driven by a sense that boating is healthy and safe, people hungry for recreation are enlarging the boat market. In 2020, 415,000 Americans became first-time boat buyers. First-time buyers account for 31% of all boat sales!

“None of us saw this coming in the industry. No one thought that putting the country on lockdown was going to make everyone come and buy boats.”

Erik Smentek, sales manager at Tilly’s Marine

4. A different demographic appeal

The boating demographic has changed, as evidenced by how the Discover Boating website has recently targeted younger buyers and female buyers. They saw that more traffic is coming from women and Millennials, who are interested in small but more versatile boats that can accommodate both fishing and watersports.

5. Boating innovations

The growth of personal watercraft, like Jet Skis, is bringing down the cost of entry-level boating and bringing boating into the grasp of the masses. These sales are growing fast: 82,000 units sold in 2020. Even more might be selling but many dealers report inventory shortages because of production slowdowns due to supply chain issues.

Maintaining your investment

Many in the boating industry say that appreciation in boat values will continue for the reasons we’ve cited. To maintain value in this seller’s market, they recommend keeping up maintenance and safety equipment, making necessary repairs, and investing in storage that maintains the integrity of your craft.


Cruising the Great Lakes in Luxury Is Now Popular 

September 15, 2022
The Pearl Mist is a passenger cruise ship that sails the Great Lakes every summer

Being able to book a luxury cruise on the Great Lakes used to be somewhat of a rarity. In recent years, though, Great Lakes cruises have grown in frequency. This year, their popularity has exploded!

OceanGrafix offers this overview chart of the Great Lakes, as well as detailed charts of the individual lakes.

In 2022, nine luxury cruise ships are making their way across the Great Lakes. They are expected to make 150,000 port calls (compared to 100,000 just a few years ago). In addition, passengers are also up 25% from 2019 due to pandemic delays. Bookings for 2023 already are in full swing.

The Great Lakes cruises have a lot to offer, as more and more vacationers are discovering. Here’s how one booking agent describes the voyages: “These cruises include landmarks, museums, important cultural and historic sites, national parks, restaurants, and the most breathtaking sunsets in North America.”

Lots of cruise line choices, with differing destinations, voyage lengths and amenities

Here’s a look at five of the cruise line offerings:

Viking Expeditions. Aboard the Octantis Great Lakes ship, visitors can journey from Toronto, Ontario, to Duluth, Minnesota.

Pearl Seas Cruises. The Pearl Mist focuses on the culinary experience both on board and in ports of call, traveling from Toronto to Milwaukee or from Milwaukee to Midland, Ontario.

American Queen Voyages. Passengers board either the Victory I or Victory II for luxury trips, including spa experiences, and educational enrichment programs. Most cruises start in Chicago.

Seabourn Cruises. These are billed as a luxury resort on the water with food focused on historic food and wine societies. Cruises begin in Montreal, with many promising fall foliage.

Hapag Lloyd Cruises. If the environment is your thing, these cruises, starting in Toronto, Chicago or Detroit, offer cruises with names like “Masterpiece of Nature.”

Most Great Lakes cruises range from 8-13 days and cost between $4,000 and $6,000 per person.

Much to offer: gourmet meals, stunning cabins, breathtaking scenery and historical stops

When planning a Great Lakes cruise, consider the time of year, the cities you want to visit, and the shoreside activities you prefer.

Together, the Great Lakes make up the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet, accounting for 21% of the world’s fresh water. They border eight states and Canada. These are northern states, with long winters, limiting the cruising season to May through September. 

Some of the most spectacular cruise ports are:

  • Niagara Falls and the Welland Canal.
  • Thunder Bay, Ontario, with its gateway to wilderness mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking and fishing.
  • Chicago, with shopping on its Miracle Mile, Navy Pier, the Field Museum, Art Institute and Shedd Aquarium.
  • Mackinac Island and its 135-year-old Grand Hotel with its rocker-lined front porch and horse-drawn carriage rides.
  • Detroit, with the Motown Museum and the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. 

Booking is available directly through the cruise lines or through travel agents. Costs depend on the time of year (May and September, the colder months, may be discounted), the size of the room and view, and the number of shore activities.

Most boats are relatively small, typically carrying just hundreds of passengers. As a result, cruises seem more intimate and less harried than on the larger ocean-going vessels.


Schooner Rebuilds Popular for Historic Preservation, Tourism

September 12, 2022
The two-masted Governor Stone schooner at full sail.
Image by Friends of the Governor Stone, Inc. via www.governorstone.org

Schooners are a uniquely American boat with a 200-year history of use in settling our coasts and maintaining trading ties to Europe. In honor of this tradition, many schooners have been lovingly restored for use as state nautical museums and for tourist outings.

One recent renovation involves the 145-year-old schooner Governor Stone, which is being rebuilt in Panama City this year, thanks to a $1.5 FEMA matching grant and local fundraisers.

The Governor Stone is a historic ship that was damaged during Hurricane Michael, which almost wiped out Panama City in 2018. Today, the ship finally is on its way to being restored. The ship has been wrecked four different times, so this rebuild will give it its 5th life.

(Watch the Governor Stone story and video on WMBB in Panama City, Florida.)

This image shows the extent of the Governor Stone destruction from hurricane Michael prior to one of its many restorations.
Image by Friends of the Governor Stone, Inc. via www.governorstone.org

Schooners commanded American trade for two centuries

Schooners were the workhorse sailing ships for American trade, acting as the backbone of commerce in the U.S. between 1700 and 1925. 

They carried cargo of 200 to 400 tons and required a crew of six to eight. The average length of a schooner was 150 feet with a height of 150 feet, although some were much smaller. In their holds, they carted coal, timber, hay, butter, apples, sheep and equipment for milling towns.

Schooners have a sleek and efficient build. They have a minimum of two masts (and a maximum of seven), where the foremast is shorter than the main, with gaff-rigged lower masts. Sails run the length of the deck, which allows the schooner to catch the wind at a closer angle. Often, schooners used jib or Bermuda sails, too. 

Their versatility was due to their small size and crew, compared to the larger square-rigged ships that crossed the oceans. Schooners became popular for both coastal trade and even transatlantic trade requiring faster crossing. The name for the craft came from the Scottish term “scoon,” which means skim, as the ships moved so smoothly across the water.

To give an idea of their efficiency and speed, most schooners took 21 days to cross the Atlantic, but the schooner Atlantic made the trip in an amazing record of 12 days in 1905!

Schooner rebuilds are common

The beauty and versatility of schooners has led to many efforts to rebuild and preserve them, even at great cost. Some recent examples:

Bowdoin

First launched to explore the Arctic Circle, the 88-foot gaff-rigged schooner Bowdoin made 26 Arctic voyages between 1921 and 1954. In 1988, the Bowdoin was named Maine’s official state vessel. The ship originally cost $35,000 to build but has been rebuilt between 2015 and 2019 for $2.6 million.

Nathanial Bowditch

Part of the Maine Windjammer Association, the Bowditch has been rebuilt a number of times. It’s featured in a YouTube video from a launch in 2010.

A.J. Meerwald

The A.J. Meerwald, a Delaware Bay oyster schooner launched in 1928, completed an extensive 10-month restoration and refurbishment in Maine. The Meerwald is also the “Official Tall Ship” of the State of New Jersey and was included in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1995. (See video).

Try out a schooner cruise

Many seaside communities from Florida to Maine offer single-day or multi-day cruises aboard refurbished schooners. Some cruises allow passengers to take a turn at the helm or help raise or trim the sails. Maine schooners are more popular in the summer because they’re often shielded from southern hurricanes. In addition, Maine cruises offer a unique view of the craggy coast, while passengers can enjoy a dinner of lobsters or a sunrise breakfast of blueberry pancakes.


Ship Strikes with Animals More Common as Boating Grows

August 11, 2022

Many collisions can be avoided if boaters slow down and keep watch

Just this July, off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts, a whale breached a pleasure craft (click link to see video). The video is startling and illustrates how these collisions damage animals, vessels and their inhabitants.

Mariners call these incidents “ship strikes” or “vessel strikes.” A vessel strike is a collision between any type of boat and any type of marine animal, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, fish, seals, sharks, sea otters, penguins or sea lions. About 75 marine species are affected.

This screen grab from the animal/boat strike incident off Plymouth shows the whale crashing onto the front deck of the boat.

Vessel strikes are getting to be common:

  • According to research carried out by the non-profit Friends of the Sea, ship strikes kill more than 20,000 whales every year. This is an alarming number, especially considering how close to extinction some species (such as the North Atlantic right whale) already are. 
  • Between 20%-30% of sea turtles in Florida show injuries consistent with vessel strikes.
  • In Florida, about 90 manatees a year die from boat strikes.

Why the increase in animal strikes?

Simply put, animal strikes by mariners are more common because there are more boats. 

Since the 1890s, ships with gross tonnage above 100 tons have increased from 11,000 to 94,000 in 2020. Growing commercial shipping is now joined by growing fleets of cruise ships, which are also big contributors to animal strikes. In fact, between 2009 and 2019, the number of cruise ship passengers increased from 17.8 million to 30 million, nearly double. In addition, the number of recreational vessels is growing, with 12 million boaters registered in 2020 in the U.S. alone.

Global Trade Routes in 2012, from shipmap.org. A 2020 map is similar. 
The graphic above shows the busy trade routes plying the oceans and coasts, leaving very few sanctuaries for marine life.

What can be done to avoid animal strikes?

The short answer as to how ships can avoid animal strikes is that there is no one answer. Some shipping companies place observers on deck to scout whale sightings and radio the captain to alter course. Other vessels have experimented with various sonar sounds, but the sounds end up attracting as many animals as they repel.

To prevent whale strikes, NOAA Fisheries created special routes where whale sightings are lower. Some smartphone apps, such as WhaleWatch and WhaleAlert, share real-time whale sightings. The Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network tracks injuries to sea turtles that collide with ships when coming up for air, hoping that their public information will help reduce strikes.

For now, mitigation strategies involve keeping vessels away from marine animals (and away from waters with crustacean abundance, where whales feed), reducing speed and promoting awareness among vessel operators.

But individual mariners can make a difference. Through awareness and caution, they can do a better job of seeing and avoiding animal strikes. NOAA Fisheries recommends:

  • Always be alert and vigilant on the water
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine animals
  • Follow speed zones and other signage
  • Slow transit when operating in areas where large sea animals live or feed

2022 Hurricane Season Could be Extreme

June 13, 2022

The 2022 hurricane season is just underway (as of June) and runs until the end of November. Early indications are that it could be a wild one.

NOAA predicts a 65% chance of an above-normal season and is forecasting 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher). Of those, 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5 and with winds of 111 mph or higher).

The new names are in

Hurricane Galveston, the worst in U.S. history, had sustained winds of 145 mph and killed 8,000 Americans.

This year, the World Meteorological Organization announced that the hurricane names will be in English. In alphabetical order, they are: Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Martin, Nicole, Owen, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie and Walter.

Alex already hit in early June. Although most originate in the Atlantic, Alex began in the Pacific and crawled over Mexico, where it killed nine people. It then freshened in the Gulf and dropped nearly a foot of rain in Florida as a tropical storm before heading out to sea.

Destruction can be immense

You don’t have to go very far back in history to illustrate the horrible destruction of a hurricane. Hurricane Ida in 2021 (shown in inset photo) had sustained winds of 150 mph and caused 115 deaths from Texas to New England and more property damage than any storm to date ($95 billion). The storm cut power to 1 million residents in the Southeast and then wound up the Atlantic Coast, even flooding subways in New York City before petering out. Airports closed and Central Park had three inches of rain in one hour.

Hurricane Ida, 2021

Ida shut ports in both the Gulf and along the Eastern Seaboard, halting shipping and increasing already problematic supply chain issues. Down in Louisiana, where the hurricane originated, 30% of the shrimp boat fleet was destroyed.

While the inland effects of hurricane activity are well known, the impacts to waterways can be equally as dramatic. In fact, Hurricane Katrina alone accounted for as many as 300 obstructions to navigation as charted by NOAA.

Boater actions under hurricane warning

Because of their high winds, storm surge, rising sea levels, increased tides and heavy rainfall, hurricanes can be big trouble for boaters. Obviously, mariners who are on the water when they hear a hurricane warning should get to shore as soon as possible. Here are some guidelines for protecting watercraft ahead of a hurricane:

Prepare the boat. If you have time, remove detachable items, like sails, radios and other equipment and have the boat pulled from the water. 

If you plan to keep the boat in the water, use two anchors and point the boat in the direction of the prevailing winds. Tie down anything that can’t be removed, such as tillers, wheels and booms. Wrap protective covering wherever the ropes touch the boat to prevent chafing. Seal off all windows, doors and hatches and make sure to shut off your boat’s fuel lines. Apply extra fenders to protect the sides of the boat from hitting the pier.

On dry land, if possible, trailer the boat and drive inland as far as possible.

How to track the storms 

The Western Atlantic hurricane chart allows mariners to track and record storm progress throughout the hurricane season.

Hurricane tracking charts by OceanGrafix allow arm-chair storm chasers and nautical enthusiasts to track and record storm progress throughout the hurricane season.

OceanGrafix has tracking charts by region:

Full Atlantic

Western Atlantic

Eastern Pacific

Always remember, take steps to protect human life. Boats can be replaced. Remember, 2022 promises an active hurricane season, with August and September the busiest months. Have a plan for what to do when the warning comes and take it seriously. Often, there is no predicting how intense a storm might become, but the best outcome comes if you prepare for the worst. Stay tuned to local weather and marine stations and follow guidance of marina operators and local officials.


Women Taking Their Place in U.S. Boating

May 25, 2022

National Maritime Day took place this week to celebrate the Savannah’s first successful transoceanic, steam-powered voyage across the Atlantic in 1819, a dramatic change is sweeping across the U.S. boating world.

Women are quickly joining men in what has historically been a male-dominated industry. 

The irony is that in 1819, few women were aboard the Savannah. In fact, those on the voyage were required to be in separate facilities. The crew was made up entirely of men. 

Today, times are changing!

  • More women are buying boats. More and more, women control the family purse strings and make recreational purchase decisions. Women make 85% of the general purchasing decisions for families and hold 60% of the nation’s wealth. By 2028, women are set to surpass men’s salaries. This trend now applies to boating. As of 2020, 75% more women are shopping for boats, according to Boat Trader. Women represent 23% of first-time boat buyers and that number is increasing each year.More women are renting boats, too. At Boatsetter, a platform with 10,000 listed boats, 32 percent of renters are women, the highest percentage ever.
  • Female millennials are driving boat sales. Millennials make up the largest demographic segment in the U.S. and half of them are women. While these millennial women make up 21% of the population, they account for 31% of boat sales. Female millennials like boats because these young women are technologically savvy, confident and independent minded.
  • Women boaters focus on their family. Many women boat owners use their boats with their children. Said one owner: “My kids are varying ages. The boat is one of the few places that once we get out on the water, my parenting blood pressure just lowers.” Said another: “I married a golfer, so that’s why I bought the boat. That’s why it’s my boat, for me and the kids. I’m very proud of it and I love it.” 
  • Women are more active in the boating industry. More women are on yacht crews and are part of the management team in boating companies. Advocates for diversity, such as Jenny Mathews, creator of “She of the Sea,” are developing boating safety and ownership programs just for women.
  • Women captains have become social media celebrities

Allison Anderson, social media influencer, has 537,000 followers and is an avid boater in Idaho. Sandy Yawn has a TV show called Below Deck Mediterranean. Betty Bauman founded Ladies Let’s Go Fishing in 1997, now the largest organization in the world focused on introducing women to fishing.

  • The pandemic drives women boat owners. The lockdown increased household responsibilities for women. According to Boat Trader, these added responsibilities have led many women to seek COVID-safe options for getting out of the home with their children. Boating in the fresh air is seen by women as a fun and safe gathering place for families.

Lots of resources for women boaters

It’s no surprise, then, that the increase of women boaters has spawned many new organizations that support this trend. Here is a brief list:

Boating will continue to draw men, as it historically has. But the future of boating will likely include both women and men, working together to ensure that boating grows and is enjoyed by as many Americans as possible.


Celebrate National Safe Boating Week

May 19, 2022

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.