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.




How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

January 8, 2019

The Silent Killer
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a danger for boaters year round, but that’s especially true in winter when biting winds and cold weather make pulling out boat covers and going below deck a deadly temptation. These confined spaces are more susceptible to trapping carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas produced by gasoline-powered engines that could poison or even kill someone who breathes too much of it. Carbon monoxide can build up above the water near the water platform, in the air space beneath the stern deck, or on or near the swim deck. Due to back drafting, traveling at slow speeds, idling in the water or even a nearby vessel, carbon monoxide could infiltrate your boat’s cabin or cockpit without your knowledge.

Educate Yourself
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills just under 400 Americans per year with a third of these deaths happening in the winter, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But as the saying goes, knowledge is power. Learn the warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, seizures and confusion. Carbon monoxide can be fatal with prolonged exposure to low concentrations or brief exposure to high concentrations.

Take Preventative Measures
The first step to ensuring your safety is installing and regularly testing carbon monoxide detectors in your boat’s confined areas. Next, stay away from exhaust vents while they are running. Schedule regular engine, exhaust system, and generator maintenance. Never block exhaust outlets that could cause dangerous backups in the cabin and cockpit areas. Finally, keep a distance of 20 feet from other boats whether in the water or at the dock.

If Disaster Strikes
If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, treat it seriously. Flood the boat with fresh air: open hatches, crack the windows, roll back the cover. Turn the boat so the wind takes the exhaust away. Shut off the engines and consider seeking medical help immediately.







How to Winterize Your Boat

December 18, 2018

Series of boats covered and stored for winter

For those who can’t enjoy the waves all year round, winterizing your boat is a must if you want to get back out on the water come warmer weather. Maintaining your boat now will save you time, headaches and money down the road. Your insurance may not cover neglect. So how do you keep your boat in tip-top shape for winter?

Step 1: Protect It Against the Elements

Ideally, you’ll want to store your boat in a climate-controlled facility where it’s secure and dry. Options include:

  • Dry stacked storage stores multiple boats simultaneously by stacking and removing boats with forklifts.
  • Depending on the size of your boat, you may be able to use a standard self-storage facility.
  • At-home garage storage is probably the most convenient and affordable storage option. If you lack a garage, you can store your boat in your driveway or yard. For this option, make sure you shrink-wrap or cover your boat in a waterproof, fitted tarp to prevent water damage or mildew growth.
  • A covered outdoor storage facility can accommodate various-sized boats and can provide more cover from most weather, but it may still be exposed to the elements. Tarps or shrink-wrapping should also be used for this type of storage.
  • Wet storage at a marina should only be used for areas where temps stay above freezing. You’ll also want to use a fitted waterproof cover and check on your boat once a week during the off-season to prevent damage from weather, barnacles, and algae.
  • For short-term wet storage, you may use a boat lift that keeps your boat hovered above the water. These lifts can be vulnerable during extreme weather and make your boat susceptible to flooding and critters/pests.

Step 2: Work from the Inside Out
Unless you want to paddle come spring, you’ll want to take special care of your boat’s engines, electrical systems and batteries during the winter months:

  • Drain the engine (for inboards and stern-drives) so that water in the cooling chamber doesn’t freeze, expand, and crack the engine block and manifolds.
  • Fog the engine cylinders to coat the inside of the engine and prevent corrosion from forming inside the engine, cylinders, pistons, and rings.
  • Treat the fuel with a stabilizer so that carburetors and injectors aren’t clogged with deposits.
  • Change the oil to stop condensation and prevent corrosion.
    For outdoor storage, run antifreeze through the boat’s water systems to prevent ice damage.
  • Remove the battery and keep it on a trickle charger to avoid a dead battery in spring.
  • Don’t forget the interior! Remove valuables, electronics, lines, fire extinguishers, flares, cushions, etc. Open and clean the refrigerator and freezer and be sure to go through all drawers and lockers.

Step 3: Ask the Experts
Always be sure to consult your owner’s manual for your boat and motor for other recommendations on winterization. When in doubt, hire a professional.





The Clothes Make the Winter Boater

December 7, 2018

Yves Saint Laurent said, “Good clothing is a passport to happiness,” and, when you’re on the water in winter, happiness means warmth. The right winter clothing can be the difference between an invigorating jaunt and a miserable one. It could even save your life. Being able to move freely and maintain a clear head are essential to winter boating safety, and the proper clothing could mean the difference between staying on deck or falling into icy waters.

To stay dry and warm, you’ll want to invest in high-quality items that do double or even triple duty. As on land, you’ll want to dress in layers and protect your head, extremities (especially your hands and feet) and core.

Base Layer

This is the closest layer to your body and acts as a second skin. A snug-fitting base layer like thermal underwear helps to trap your body heat and increase your comfort. Some types of thermal underwear can absorb perspiration and allow your body to breathe under all those layers. It also allows you to move freely and flexibly so that you’re as nimble as you normally would be.

Skip the cotton and opt instead for Merino wool socks that act as a performance fabric to wick away moisture and thermoregulate your feet to keep them warm, dry, and comfortable.

Insulating Layer

Depending on the conditions, this layer could be a simple fleece pullover or something more protective like a drysuit or wetsuit. Lightweight, water-resistant, and an ideal thermal midlayer, fleece stays warm even when wet, dries quickly and won’t hinder your movements. A drysuit, made from neoprene, rubber or nylon, will keep you completely dry on the water. Loose-fitting, it allows you to wear clothes or other layers underneath. They work by keeping an insulating layer of air between your body and the water. Drysuits can be bulkier and harder to move in but provide more insulation in the water. Wetsuits are better for more active sports like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and jet skiing but are not as insulating as drysuits.

Weather-Protection Layer

The outermost layer keeps water and cold air out. The weather conditions – rain, snow, wind, or spray – will determine the appropriate outer layer. Look for breathable gear that keeps weather out but also lets moisture and heat from your body pass through to keep you dry and comfortable. Look for easily adjustable gear like hoods, zippers, and cuffs that provide flexible protection depending on your needs and the conditions. For overnight excursions, look for offshore-rated gear as you’ll need the heaviest duty possible. For day trips, coastal or inshore coats may be just fine.

It may go without saying, but waterproof boots with rubber, grip/anti-slip soles will protect your feet against saltwater and extreme cold in addition to keeping you on deck. Some boots even feature drawstrings at the top to keep water out during especially rough seas.

While cold and wet hands may be inevitable – sometimes you’ll have to be bare handed to fasten or unfasten something – you’ll still want to look for high-performing gloves that are waterproof yet insulated and provide maximum movement. Some smartphone-friendly gloves, made from diving material, allow you to operate controls without function loss.

Winter boating requires the appropriate gear and attire for safety and comfort. You won’t regret investing in quality attire. Be dry, be warm, and always be safe.






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 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.