Navigational Sound Signals: A Cheat Sheet for Boaters

November 5, 2018

Horns, pots and pans, and other noisemakers aren’t just for birthday parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations. For boaters, it’s essential to have the proper “noisemakers” on board—and to know how to use them.

The cheat sheet below covers inland sound signals for power-driven vessels.

SOUND SIGNALS CHEAT SHEET

Sound Producing Devices by Boat Size:

  • If your boat is less than 39.4 feet long, you are required to carry an efficient sound-producing device, such as a whistle, an air horn, or a bell.
  • If your boat is between 39.4 feet to 65.6 feet long, you are legally required to carry:
    • A whistle that’s audible for 1/2 nautical mile
    • A bell with a minimum mouth diameter of 7.87 inches

Sound Signals for Common Maneuvers:

Short blast duration: approx. 1 second
Prolonged blast duration: approx. 4-6 seconds

  • One Short Blast: Tells other boats, “I intend to pass you on my port (left) side.” In other words, when you’re approaching another vessel—either head-on or from behind—you will maneuver to leave them on your left side as you pass.
If the other vessel is in agreement, they should sound the same signal in response.
  • Two Short Blasts: Tells other boats, “I intend to pass you on my starboard (right) side.” In other words, when you’re approaching another vessel—either head-on or from behind—you will maneuver to leave them on your right side as you pass.
If the other vessel is in agreement, they should sound the same signal in response.
  • Three Short Blasts: Tells other boaters, “I’m backing up” or “I’m using astern propulsion.”
  • Five (or more) Short Blasts: This rapid sequence of blasts is a DANGER signal. You are required to use the danger signal if you don’t understand another vessel’s sound signal—or if you feel their proposed maneuver is dangerous.
  • One Prolonged Blast: This is a WARNING signal. It should be used when:
    • You are leaving a dock or departing your slip—to signal that you are getting underway.
    • You are coming around a blind bend and can’t see approaching vessels.
  • One Prolonged Blast + Three Short Blasts: This sequence of blasts lets others know you are departing a dock in reverse. (This is a combination of signals noted above: 1 prolonged = getting underway; 3 short = backing up).

IMPORTANT: The sound signals listed in this Cheat Sheet must only be used when you are within half a mile of the other vessel(s)—and you can see each other by eye. In fog or other conditions of restricted visibility, you must adhere to the signals listed under Rule 35 of the USCG’s Navigation Rules. The information above reflects Inland Rules; International Rules may be different.

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“Ditch Bag” Basics Every Boater Should Know

September 24, 2018

“Abandon Ship!” For most of us, those words seem like a silly line from an old movie. Indeed, as a boater, you may not ever need to ditch your ship and jump overboard. But emergencies do happen. And it’s important to be prepared in case they do.

That’s where your ditch bag (aka: ditch kit; abandon ship bag) comes in.

Here are 8 ways to ensure your ditch bag serves its purpose:

  1. Stock your ditch bag with the right contents. Some key items include an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB); Personal Locator Beacons (PLB); a waterproof emergency VHF; emergency lights; and a waterproof handheld GPS. This is a partial list only; most ditch bag manufacturers provide a full list of essential items.
  2. Always have your ditch bag onboard—whether you’re planning a long sea journey or a few hours of fun on a lake. As you well know, winds and currents can be unpredictable. Never assume you—and everyone else on your boat—will be able to make it safely ashore.
  3. Keep your ditch bag visible—and in the same location for every trip. Make sure your bag is in a place where you can grab it quickly as you evacuate the boat (like near the helm). Make sure every person on the boat knows where the bag is located.
  4. Make sure your ditch bag can float and that it can remain buoyant with the weight of its contents.
  5. Attach a strong lanyard to the bag. Because you’ll likely need to use both hands during your evacuation, it’s important to secure yourself to the ditch bag before you exit.
  6. Attach lanyards to the contents of the bag. To make sure your emergency items don’t float away, connect each item to the bag with an individual lanyard.
  7. Equip your ditch bag with a passive signaling device, just in case you become separated from it in the water.
  8. Make sure all battery-powered ditch bag items are equipped with working batteries.

In the event of an onboard (or non-evacuation type) emergency, your ditch bag will serve as a convenient storage place for many of the safety items you may need. In addition to the contents of your ditch bag, however, you should always have other precautionary items—like paper charts and PFDs—on board as well.

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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.