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.




“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.




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




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.



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.



When Hurricanes Strike, NOAA Helps Speed Re-Opening of Ports

October 29, 2017

After a damaging storm, ports will only operate when it is safe for navigation.

When a hurricane hits, the U.S. Coast Guard calls on NOAA navigation response teams to conduct emergency hydrographic services—to map the ocean floor for hidden debris or shoaling that might pose a danger to navigation. Their work is essential to speeding the re-opening of ports and waterways.

According to the Office of Coast Survey, the faster NOAA teams can notify USCG of its findings, the faster the ports can re-open and resume shipping—allowing goods and services to enter.


Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on September 21, 2017, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure of many critical ports—and preventing vessels with critical fuel supplies and commodities from entering safely.

On September 23, NOAA’s mobile integrated survey team (MIST)—which can set up equipment and manpower quickly on a vessel of opportunity—arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to conduct emergency hydrographic surveys in the Port of Arecibo, an important fuel and chemical port.

NOAA Photo Library Photo Credit: ship1010

On September 24, while the MIST was conducting its emergency surveys, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson—a hydrographic survey vessel that maps the ocean—departed Port Everglades, Florida, for San Juan. Upon its arrival on September 28, Thomas Jefferson deployed its launches and delivered supplies to NOAA’s National Weather Service at the USCG small boat pier.

But Thomas Jefferson’s mission didn’t stop there. The ship was also tasked with the following duties:

  • Providing equipment needed to repair the NOAA tide gauge station in San Juan
  • Traveling to Ponce, a large city on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, to deploy launches to survey the deep draft channel—a crucial step to re-opening the port
  • Performing a complete side scan sonar survey to locate a crane that was potentially knocked into the water during the storm and to check for any other obstructions in the channel and port
  • Conducting additional survey operations, based on USCG priority, to help re-open ports from Puerto Rico to St. Croix
  • Conducting surveys to update charts in the affected areas

“NOAA is really proud that the Thomas Jefferson has arrived in Puerto Rico to help the United States Coast Guard and the local port authorities to restore the full capacity of the island’s sea ports,” said Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The people of Puerto Rico need the transportation infrastructure restored to bring relief to the stricken and rebuild their lives after this tragic storm.”