OceanGrafix Continues Support of Young Mariners via Donated Charts

September 24, 2017

The latest ship in use by this scout group, Sea Scout Ship 243 is a 65’ US Navy patrol boat.

While everyone has heard of the Boy Scouts of America, most are not familiar with its Sea Scouts program. For over 100 years, the Sea Scouts have focused on educating youth (ages 14 to 21) about seamanship, boating skills and maritime history.

Member Doug Temple has donated his time to the Sea Scouts for over 40 years and feels strongly about teaching the youth of America about boating safety and navigation rules. “A lot of knowledge has been lost over time,” says Doug. “States require a safety course, but they don’t go into the details that we do. We teach kids knowledge they don’t get elsewhere, like how to read a chart and how to get from one point to the next. We even teach them how to use stars for navigational purposes.”

Although enrollment in the program waned throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the Sea Scouts are making a comeback of sorts and reactivating one of the program’s ships. Doug credits the Elks Lodge #1075 for helping to make it happen. As the official sponsor of the Sea Scouts, the Elks provide funding, help with fundraisers and provide a location for meetings.

As navigation plays an important role in the Sea Scouts curriculum, Doug and his team were also in need of navigational charts. OceanGrafix was happy to oblige, providing the requested complimentary charts to the program.

Says Doug, “Nautical charts are a wonderful thing. If you’re on a body of water, you can look on the chart and see exactly where you are. For instance, if you pass a buoy on the water, you can locate that buoy on a chart and determine where you are. Paper charts provide you with the big-picture perspective you can’t really get from electronic tools.”

If you’re interested in learning more or helping the Sea Scouts financially, you can check out their Facebook page.


5 Common Boating Mistakes to Avoid

September 4, 2017

Some boating mishaps are unavoidable. Mechanical issues and other internal problems, for example, can make for a horrible day on the water—but they can’t always be foreseen. On the other hand, many mistakes can be easily avoided with a little forethought.

Here are 5 common boating mistakes—and tips for avoiding them:

Mistake 1: Forgetting to Plug the Boat Drain

TIP: Don’t forget to plug the drain in your boat (and keep in mind that some boats today have more than one drain you’ll need to plug). It may seem silly to even mention this mistake, but every year boats fill with water from this embarrassing mishap. To ensure a day of smooth sailing, make a list of things to double-check on your boat while you’re at the launch.

Mistake 2: Being Slow at the Launch

TIP: Okay, this isn’t really a boating mistake. But being slow at the launch does create a rushed, pressured environment that will likely lead you to forget something important. For new boaters in particular (who may not have mastered the art of backing a boat down the launch), a little practice can help a lot. Set up some cones in your driveway and practice moving around while towing the boat. You’ll feel much more confident when you show up to launch.

Remember, of course, never to run your boat engine on land. Without a water supply, you are sure to overheat.

Mistake 3: Uncontrolled Wake

TIP: There’s nothing worse than being in a canoe or small boat and getting smashed by huge waves that will inevitably push you off your course. As a boater, slowing down the speed of your boat is not enough to ensure a smaller wake. Understanding how to balance the plane and minimize your waves is a useful—and welcomed—skill. Be respectful of others on the water so everyone can have a fun and safe day.

Mistake 4: Letting Out Too Little Anchoring Line

TIP: Finding a sweet spot on the water and taking time to relax there is one of the pleasures of recreational boating. But continuously drifting from your anchor point can be frustrating. The trick is to let out the right amount of line. Boating Safety Mag offers this helpful tip: “Remember that the amount of line needed to anchor a vessel (called scope) should be 5 to 7 times the depth of the water in calm weather, plus the distance from the surface to where the anchor attaches at the bow. If high winds or rough sea conditions are present, then use 10 times the depth. Fail to use the proper scope and your vessel may drag anchor and drift ashore, into other vessels or – worst case – out to sea!”

Mistake 5: Forgetting Your Nautical Charts

TIP: All too often these days, boaters overlook nautical charts and depend instead on GPS. While GPS is a fantastic and useful tool, this technology does not negate the multiple reasons for needing nautical charts, including when the unexpected happens. At a minimum, paper charts should be carried as a complement to electronics.

Operation Dry Water: Raising Awareness About BUI

July 25, 2017

Operation Dry Water (ODW) is a year-round boating under the influence (BUI) awareness and enforcement campaign. Launched in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, OWD aims to “change the cultural acceptance of drinking and boating and help boaters have safe and fun recreational boating experiences.”

Drinking while boating is a pervasive problem among recreational boaters. In fact, the USCG 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics list alcohol use as “the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 15% of deaths.”

In addition to its year-round awareness initiative, every Fourth of July weekend ODW works with the USCG and law enforcement agencies across the country to step up enforcement of BUI laws. This year, Operation Dry Water Weekend was held June 30–July 2. Agencies are still reporting the extent of this year’s activities, but at least 7,092 boating citations were issued and 411 BUI arrests were made.

Refraining from drinking while operating a boat can go a long way in decreasing accidents and fatalities on the water. Here are 3 other key precautions the USCG recommends to stay safe on the water:

  • Wear a lifejacket: The USCG estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of over 80 percent of boating fatality victims.
  • File a float plan: Without a float plan you are counting on someone else to remember detailed information that rescue personnel need in order to find you.
  • Carry nautical charts: The USCG reports that “one of the most important tools for safely navigating waterways is the Nautical Chart. Today, many recreational boaters use GPS receivers and perform electronic waypoint navigation. Although a GPS can tell you where you are in terms of latitude and longitude, it cannot show what is around or beneath the boat, or what obstacles may be in the way.”

Texting While Boating: A Dangerous Distraction

June 19, 2017

“Each year hundreds of lives are lost, thousands of people are injured, and millions of dollars of property damage occur because of preventable recreational boating accidents on U.S. waterways.”

That statement from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division probably doesn’t surprise you.

According to the USCG’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics report, alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. No surprise there, either. Most everyone is aware of the life-threatening risks posed by drinking and driving—whether on the road or on the water.

But did you know that a big portion of preventable boating accidents stems from distracted driving? In addition to alcohol use, the USCG report lists “operator inattention” as one of the top contributing factors in boating accidents.

Piloting a boat requires a lot of multi-tasking as it is. Add to that distractions like wind, glare and fatigue—and you can see how easy it can be to get preoccupied. And then there’s cell phone use, which throws in a whole new level of distraction for boaters.

Most people understand the dangers of texting while driving a car. Indeed, a growing number of states have strict laws against it. The USCG is also aware of the risks—and since 2015, it has prohibited the use of cell phones by its vessel operators.

Unfortunately, too many recreational boaters don’t consider the dangers of texting while boating. Texting (along with tweeting and/or taking photos and posting to social media sites like Instagram and Facebook) while boating creates exactly the type of operator inattention that leads to accidents.

Consider this statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission:

Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

That’s frightening! Think about how much can happen in 5 seconds on the waterways—where boats can approach from any direction and at varying speeds. Texting while boating is an accident waiting to happen. When waterways are crowded, the risks are even higher.

The Fourth of July is a big holiday for boaters. If you’re planning to hit the waterways, put down your cell phone, be safe…and have fun!

Icebergs in Popular Shipping Pipeline Are Threatening Navigational Safety

May 23, 2017

Off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada’s “Iceberg Alley” is one of the world’s most popular shipping lanes. Currently, a record number of icebergs has moved in (along with loosened sea ice) and is threatening navigational safety.

The situation right now is extreme, due in part to two extraordinary weather systems in late March. To give you an idea of just how extreme, here are a few stats from April of this year:

  • There were about 660 icebergs in the area; the average number for the same time of year is about 212. More than triple the average!
  • The Canadian Coast Guard was called in 85 times to break ships from the ice.
  • Within the span of one week, the number of icebergs in the shipping lanes grew sharply—from 37 to 455.

Note that those statistics are from April—and peak season for the icebergs is May and June.

Thankfully, the International Ice Patrol is on the scene. The Patrol, which consists of an international coalition of 17 nations, formed in 1913 in response to the Titanic disaster. And it’s been warning ships of iceberg danger since.

Gabrielle McGrath is the U.S. Coast Guard commander leading the international effort, which is focused on identifying and tracking the biggest, most dangerous icebergs. In a recent interview with ABC News, she said, “In the last 104 years any vessel heeding our warnings has stayed safe from the danger of iceberg collision.”

According to Aslak Ross, head of marine standards for Maersk Line, the safety hazards posed by icebergs are not to be taken lightly. “We operate big ships, and our safety is a priority—and hence, we really try to avoid the areas of icebergs,” he said. “It is definitely something that needs to be considered in safe navigation.”

What’s Wrong With the National Charting Plan – Part 2

May 11, 2017


By: Bob Sweet, former USPS National Education Officer

In Part 1 of this blog, I outlined my main concerns with the Office of Coast Survey’s draft National Charting Plan. Namely, that it seems to support a trend toward the elimination of paper charts.

I’m going to run through four key reasons why paper charts are critical—especially for recreational boaters.

  • Reason #1: Let’s face it, electronics can and do malfunction. Most recreational boaters have a single thread system, based on a single GPS receiver and probably just one screen. A failure without paper charts would render this boater blind.
  • Reason #2: Chartplotters offer a limited window into the boaters’ area of operation. If the boater zooms in to see where the boat is located, he or she cannot see where the boat is going. If the boater zooms out to see where the boat is going, he or she cannot see any detail around the boat. The answer to this problem is to use a paper chart alongside the chartplotter. The paper chart will provide a larger view and sufficient detail. What’s more, the larger coverage of the printed chart is much better and safer for planning a voyage. Planning is more difficult on a chartplotter because it requires scrolling and zooming on an electronic chart.
  • Reason #3: Printed charts offer a great deal more information. This information is useful in planning and checking position while underway. Recreational boaters rely far more on visual cues on land because they usually operate away from shipping lanes. Most chartplotters used by recreational boaters do use vector charts, which offer simpler presentation, faster redraws, and scalable text. What they do not offer is refinement of features offered on paper/raster charts.
  • Reason #4: The trend toward just small-scale planning charts (large area) being produced is wrong. To the recreational boater, the local large-scale chart is his or her planning chart; it is their area of operation. Most recreational boaters do not go on extended voyages.

If for any reason, the National Ocean Service (NOS) stops creating the paper/raster chart images, these charts will disappear. That’s because the liability risk for a non-government enterprise is just too great to undertake chart generation. Commercial chart providers (those who currently print NOS charts, or modified presentations in chart books or re-sized chart sections), who rely on faithful reproduction of data provided by NOS to produce their products, would not be able to provide the products recreational boaters need.

You can download a copy of the Draft NOS National Charting Plan at: https://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/docs/NationalChartingPlan.pdf

What’s Wrong with the National Charting Plan – Part 1

May 7, 2017


By: Bob Sweet, former USPS National Education Officer

As you may know, the NOAA Office of Coast Survey is currently accepting public comment on its draft National Charting Plan.

According to NOAA, the purpose of the draft plan is “to solicit feedback from nautical chart users regarding proposed changes to NOAA’s paper and electronic chart products.”

I’m glad NOAA is reaching out for feedback. Here’s a brief overview of mine:

The National Charting Plan’s vision for the future sees “the end of raster navigation charts” and “the sunset of paper charts.”

That’s a wrong-headed view.

Yes, electronic charting has its value—especially in its ability to be easily updated. But for recreational boaters in particular, paper charts are critical.

Electronic charting favors commercial vessels

There’s no doubt the era of electronic charting is upon us. Problem is, electronic navigation charts (ENCs) favor commercial shipping over recreational boating. ENCs offer critical navigation information but leave out a lot of the detail and features found on paper charts.

The U.S. participates in treaties that lead to the mandatory use of ENC systems by commercial vessels on international voyages (see footnote). That means these commercial vessels no longer need to carry paper charts.

For international navigators, paper charts may not be critical, because their task is setting course in the open ocean most of the time. As the vessel approaches port, there are few approaches, and these are clearly delineated on the ENCs. Often, the vessel is brought into port by a “pilot” who specializes in local waters. ENCs work great for this task and that’s the rationale behind the international standards. They also eliminate the risk of failure of the electronic system by requiring redundant systems.

For recreational boaters, though, this trend toward diminishing the availability of the more detailed paper charts (and even their electronic equivalents called raster navigation charts) should be a serious concern.

Most recreational boaters use some sort of electronic navigation based on GPS. And many have chartplotters, which display the boat’s position directly on an electronic version of a chart.

But prudent recreational boaters always carry paper charts as well.

The problem with ENCs is that they emphasize commercial shipping areas, while offering a less detailed presentation, particularly of land features. Unfortunately, it is precisely those areas of potential elimination—that is, charts of larger scale (more detail)—that mean the most to recreational boaters.

In short, recreational boaters need charts that their commercial and international counterparts do not.

As NOAA accepts public feedback and modifies the National Charting Plan, I hope it will give equal priority to the millions of recreational boats and boaters—as opposed to its current emphasis on satisfying just the thousands of commercial vessels.

Complying with international treaties is important. And supporting safety at sea is critical. But emphasizing this small segment of the user community is not the right answer for the vast population of boaters.

Your thoughts matter!

In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll outline four key reasons why we still need paper charts. Stay tuned!

Footnote: By international treaty, the U.S. participates in the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which applies to international voyages. In 2012, IMO (International Maritime Organization) adopted regulations leading to mandatory use of Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). By July 2018, all international vessels over 10,000 gross tons will be required to implement ECDIS.