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Jun. 19, 2019
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Steve Johnson's Boating Safety

Watch for dangerous curves ahead

There are countless reasons and causes for unsafe navigation resulting in risk of collision or grounding. Most of them include one undeniable truth in vessel control, and that is: Advance and Transfer.  The diagram in this article shows graphically how all this works. Let’s break it down to its roots and see where the hazards reside in this critical aspect of piloting.  
All watercraft behave differently when underway, even those of the same design and class. Considerations could be weight, weight distribution, position of the pivot point, height of the center of gravity, environment, and other factors. These elements are some of the prime components in this curve representation.  
Reliable geographic positioning of a vessel must always incorporate Speed, Distance, and Time. That’s the Big 3 as I like to refer to them. They constantly change, and so does the shape of the curve on the diagram. High speeds will give an extended Advance, increasing the distance traveled in the original direction. This is exactly where a great percentage of the maneuvering risk is located and these multiple characteristics have to be understood by the person in charge in order to safely pilot. The Big 3 are connected, each value of the equation effecting the Advance and Transfer uniquely. 
One of the biggest misconceptions by inexperienced boat drivers is that the vessel will act like a vehicle on a roadway. That may be true in some aspects, as if driving on ice or a slippery surface, but that’s where the resemblance abruptly ends. Comprehending how your craft reacts under all conditions is a sign of good seamanship and remarkably increases boating safety.
There is a remedy – a control point to Advance and Transfer – that is so easy to master, all operators can perform this action effectively. It is mandated in the USCG Rules of the Road in various sections, with the most profound being: Rule 8 – Action to Avoid Collision. It states: If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.  
Next time you’re driving your boat please remember t
here might just be a Dangerous Curve Ahead.

Steve Johnson, US Coast Guard (ret). is with CPO Johnson, Inc. More info:

May 2019 column

Safe boating is no accident

The title of this article can be interpreted in a few different ways as in: preparation, education, and the positive results of these types of actions. Compared to other modes of transportation, boating is unique. Boaters are not required to have a USCG License unless taking passengers for hire or commercial application with a larger vessel.

Driving your vehicle is demanding enough, now factor in boating which most enthusiasts do at part-time intervals. Remember the road driving test? The final exam with actual demonstration of the newly acquired skills and abilities for maneuvering. With experience, handling became almost second nature. The same mindset applies to boating.
In the maritime world of schooling and assessment, that’s where VR simulation now comes into play in a big way, complementing actual experience and lecture based instruction. Virtual immersion of the student into various scenarios, some hazardous, provides the opportunity to apply skills learned in the classroom. It’s a perfect platform for a training element called Error Trapping, learning from mistakes and isolating the behavior to reduce further incidents. 
A frequent question: How does boating safety education correlate to a better actual experience on the water? To discover that answer you should check out the many options and training organizations available to you or contact me to find out more. It’s all about creating awareness that with knowledge you will become a better all-around mariner. 
Redundancy is high priority in boating safety. Familiarization with your vessel by having an additional person qualified to handle the craft properly, sometimes referred to as the Second in Command is a valuable asset. I am not suggesting that everyone should attend some type of formal education, unless required by law, but each operator should be proficient in all aspects of safe boating and prepare for any and all contingencies. This can be accomplished with briefings and practice events to hone skills.
Here are five things that can make a difference in safe boating: 
  • Know How to Stop 
  • Wear a Life Jacket
  • Be Aware and Lookout
  • Learn Emergency Equipment
  • Proper Use of Radio and GPS 
It is absolutely true ... Safe Boating Is No Accident!

April 2019 columm

The Mercator Madness

According to the prime reference for all things Maritime Navigation; Bowditch Volume One, the chart is one of the most important. Mastery of the science is sometimes a difficult issue for mariners, especially when under taking the deck officer license examinations. 
Accuracy, correct utility, and design of the voyage is represented on this flat, large piece of paper representing a small portion the globe. Actually, the shape of the Earth is an Oblate Spheroid, but considered a perfect sphere for navigation purposes and the mathematics applied to solve it. 
Finding your position utilizing this method requires some form of a paper chart, the most common, is called a Mercator Projection. 
One of the primary duties relegated to the Officer in Charge of the Navigation Watch is to understand how to plot on these types of navigation devices. Each detail of course, speed, and time, along with the corrections, are applied to give a real picture of the vessel’s location. Oftentimes there is a lack of verifiable information sources to affix your position accurately so you rely on what is referred to as Dead Reckoning. Knowing your location is a major factor making a decision as to maneuver while piloting or to avoid a collision. 
With modern GPS and applications, the use of paper charts and the plotting procedures are seldom, if ever, used by mariners. Still it’s required for license examinations both USCG and International, and can be used as a back-up for advanced Electronic Charting Systems, and will remain a requirement for the foreseeable future.
There is a feeling, commonly shared by experienced boaters, that there is an over-reliance on advanced technology, especially GPS. Please don’t misconstrue, I really like satellite connectivity, not only with charting, but communication, and timely, accurate weather data. 
The entire system delivers benefits and opportunities well beyond anyone could have imagined. The problem is not with the advances of the multi-function displays, it resides in the basic understanding of navigation and the importance of reading a conventional chart. If you lost your GPS capability could you find your way safely? 
For those of you are taking a USCG License course, preparing for the upper level exams at the Regional Exam Centers, or a boater that wants to understand more there are resources on the educational market that can guide you through the learning curve of charting. There is training media that is easy to comprehend, and follow with detailed instructions and examples for a professional experience. Mastery of this skill is possible with the right instruction. Contact me to discover how, and the cure for ... The Mercator Madness.

March 2019 column

Cold water boating safety

Located on advanced marine multi-function displays there is a button labeled MOB which stands for Man Overboard. The alert position is specifically designed to mark the exact position of someone that has fallen into the water on a GPS chart enabling the boat operator to make a speedy recovery, especially in cold water conditions. Hyperthermia is very dangerous and can lead to tragedy. Required by maritime rules, commercial licensed and military mariners practice this scenario often to constantly hone the necessary skills to perform this maneuver in any weather or sea condition. 
There are three different maneuvers or “turns” to accomplish that primary objective of a quick return:
Williamson Turn
For those of you that have taken boating and license courses the “Williamson Turn” is introduced as a maneuver to go back to the exact location where the person went overboard and retrace the path of the vessel on a reciprocal course. Its chief advantage is to return to that position accurately in any condition of visibility or sea state.
Anderson Turn
In calmer waters, especially the lake, making a round turn or “Anderson Turn” would enable you to return to the position quickly. The main value of this recovery method is a reduction in time to on-scene and is easier to perform with smaller vessels. As a boat operator you should always employ situational awareness and if this event did occur you would immediately know safe turning areas to use. Approaching from this method would also allow you to maneuver up-wind to the person in the water, which is the best and safest way to pick-up. 
Scharnow Turn
A sometimes even quicker maneuver to return to the MOB position, depending on the size and design of the vessel, is to execute a “Scharnow Turn.” As you will see from the website graphic it is a quick rotation of 240 degrees and also absolutely requires having the person that is overboard in sight at all times. Beware, during the change of heading there is sometimes the tendency to lose geographical orientation. The datum mark on the GPS chart will help guide if you are so equipped but visual contact is even more important and crucial to a quick, successful rescue.
These three turns are just a few examples of the process to assist in MOB. More importantly is that you have a plan and practice enough for it to become as second nature. Think about taking a boating safety class this year from the USCG Auxiliary or the Power Squadron. Other local venues of boating education and professional license can also effectively assist you to develop your skills as a mariner. Please contact me if you would like to learn more. 
For more info on these turns: or simply search for the terms on the web. 
Lake waters are a hyperthermia hazard and will remain so for a few more weeks. Cold water boating brings a different set of considerations and awareness to your experience. With proper preparation and training it can make for a great time on the water!

February 2019 column

Texas chicken and ships

That may be a strange title for an article, but it is actually a famous name for a ship maneuver in the Galveston, Texas Ship Channel. You can see the videos on YouTube if you search for Texas Chicken.

Basically it is when two very large and heavy ships steer directly toward each other at close proximity to successfully pass in a narrow channel. To disregard this almost bizarre procedure could cause a collision and is something that defies maneuvering logic, especially when you witness it in person for the first time. This is the story of my unforgettable new experience with such that type of situation:
SS Exxon Baton Rouge, a very heavy and large crude oil tanker inbound, was loaded to maximum draft with Valdez crude oil bound for Baytown, Texas, a vast sprawling oil refinery just outside Houston. This landscape of tanks, pipelines, and towers was the very beginning of the process to convert this black gold into petrochemicals and gasoline that we depend on for just about everything.
Slipping through the water in the channel at about 10 knots this massive vessel of about 200,000 tons was literally shoving the water out of the way with tremendous bow pressure and violently sucking the water behind, almost ripping it from the shore. Given the sizable mass it was also extremely difficult to steer, and was especially vulnerable to loss of heading control by touching the bottom because of such a deep draft. 
Another, even more profound reason of steering failure is from the hydraulic effect from a nearby passing ship, especially something comparable in tonnage and depth. Galveston Bay, may to some extent appear to be an expansive body of water, but it is actually a dredged channel below the surface sometimes referred to as the “The Ditch,” allowing large, deep-draft commercial vessels to transit into and out of the Port of Houston and surrounding areas. 
Knowing this was my first time entering Galveston on this class of ship, the Captain ordered me to go up to the bow and help the forward lookout. Working as the 3rd Officer on this trip my collateral duties included safety and training. Clear day, calm waters, was no consolation and comparison to what I was watching unfold right in front of me. An extremely large container ship outbound coming right at us. (Discovered after the incident that the lookout was also in on the prank.) His report of the incoming ship was correct to maritime professional standards but there was something disconcerting about his lack of concern. 
Passing the other ship safely now looked to me as almost an impossibility. As we began to get closer I urgently ordered the lookout to abandon the area and quickly head back aft, almost 750 feet just to the superstructure where the navigation bridge was located. My adrenalin kicked in and I was in a fast sprint to the rear part of the tanker. Eye witnesses reported my speed and agility were impressive. What they did not know is that halfway back I gave a serious, but brief moment thought about jumping off the side of the ship. This almost irrational action would not have been a smart thing to do. 
For the remainder of the voyage and the few trips that followed I remained silent, still in shock of how close I came to real disaster. Reflection on this incident, although somewhat humorous at times, still brings back the rushing memories. It also taught me a valuable lesson: be aware of my environment and keep situational awareness. Most of all it instructed me to prepare for the unexpected and avoid ... Texas Chicken and Ships.

January 2019 column

It's all about time ...

Welcome to the 2019 Atlanta Boat Show. There’s plenty of things to see up close and satisfy your desire for all things on the water especially with the upcoming season rapidly approaching. As there is a time and a place for everything, now would be a good moment to consider specialized training to further protect your investment or to find additional safe boating knowledge. Whether it’s for serving as a guide carrying passengers for hire or just the need to understand more, there are some absolute great options to consider. 
Every one of us has been given the same count when it comes to time. Exactly 24 hours a day, incorporating minutes, seconds. It’s not the sole factor of the measure of this element, it’s what we do with it that resonates most. Many deterrents wait in line to waste this precious resource, with procrastination leading the way. This article addresses time and effort you spend obtaining a USCG License and will show you innovative ways to achieve the objective of getting credentials with less expense, particularly in regards to time.
Traditional curriculum methods propose sitting in class for almost 60 hours listening to an instructor present you the information. It’s up to you to absorb the content and then also effectively study to further hone the newfound skill set. Then follows the examinations, another day of the already very long, consuming, arduous process.
How much time do you think you truly are engaged while in the learning mode, understanding a new volume of information or method to solve a navigation problem? First, let’s get through the detractors when it comes to a normal in-class training syllabus: coffee breaks, lunch, more breaks, other class members recounting experiences, instructor stories of previous voyages, and more breaks. Many times it has been said that “Time is Money” and that is exactly what it is in pure form. Taking time from work, family, and other things in your life has a cost implication attached to it. It is still a very influential part of everything. Another point to remember: lodging, food, fuel, and other expenses begin to get expensive. Then comes driving to and from class which, depending on the location, can be a challenge. 
By my long-term and proven calculations you spend over 20 to 30 percent of the time in factors other than actual learning. In some cases the percentage is much higher. That’s something to consider when planning an educational venture such as this. 
Do you want to know how to get a U.S. Coast Guard License, OUPV, Master, Towing Assist, Sailing, and other certifications in less time, with a much more productive learning environment, taught by some of the best instructors in the business, minus all the extra fees? Contact me to discover the huge benefits of blended learning and I will show you how to achieve this training with options that can suit your needs. Not only learning and passing the examinations, but full professional service regarding your application to the National Maritime Center by experts, helping complete the goal, license in hand.
Total license success … It’s about time.
December 2018 column

So exactly what is distracted boating?

Distracted driving – It’s not a breaking-news topic for drivers on the road, especially with the motor vehicle laws now in place. We all know from the media or even personal experience what results from this type of driving – like texting, a classic example of loss of situational awareness. This form of risk also applies to other modes of transportation, in particular: boating. The Navigation Rules of the Road are primarily designed for one purpose and that is, collision avoidance. Sitting in the helm chair has a lot of responsibility attached to it. Other passengers on your boat are counting on you to get them to the destination safely, without incident, to enjoy their trip. That specific objective cannot be accomplished if you are distracted when operating a vessel, especially at high speeds in congested or rough waters. Sounds just like a precise description of the lake during the busy season, a prime time when the weather is perfect and the crowds are large. 
That’s not the only distraction of course when operating on the water. The whole perception of risk assessment, the very same thing you do when driving your vehicle, changes slightly in this aquamarine environment. Now the “roadways” are not restricted to route, speed is seldom controlled by signage and law, except in no-wake areas. What was once directed in paved traffic patterns now becomes an arena of paths and situations. This difference of how to accurately perform risk assessment is where collision avoidance on the water is found. 
The secret to absorbing all this extra information is learning the fine art of situational awareness, which always precedes collision avoidance. Knowing how to recognize situations, before they happen is the key to safe boating. 
Full awareness of your overall surroundings without distraction may sound simple, in reality it is far from it. The only way to develop this much needed mind-set is practice. You can study every book on the subject, take every examination that exists, and it still would not prepare you for what comes next, mainly because the learning approach lacks action. The absolute best way to gain that crucial experience is either witness by demonstration or do it yourself, with simulation or real-time. Operating your vessel safely and having a proper lookout at all times are fundamentally required. The greatest value of effective boating safety education is the long term positive influence in your actions, especially gauging results before making decisions in handling or navigation. Sometimes the real beginning of the instruction process, the proficiency of boating operations, is the study of previous incidents, observing all types of scenarios. Application of that same knowledge with realistic clear and understandable training is the best way to eliminate or reduce distractions. 
On the water there is always the chance for conditions to rapidly change, priorities can alter, but always the primary focus of the boat operator is safely moving the vessel through any situation, at the proper speed, and completely aware of their surroundings without any distraction.
Expect the unexpected … and nothing becomes a surprise.

November 2018 column

The Johnson Curve

Each and every time you set out on the water there is the chance of something undesirable happening. Safe boating is a duty achieved by experience and proper application of training. There are basically three levels of risk when it comes to vessel operation, regardless of location and type of boat. This premise also incorporates the use of advanced marine electronics versus more of a visual method of directing the vessel. It’s a comparison that needs to be understood by anyone in charge of navigation.
The first is the GREEN sector to the left of the gauge, the beginning of the curve. Calm weather and smooth water, all systems functioning as designed, voyage plan being followed, the driver at the helm is capable and properly trained. The main method of piloting is visual reference, also utilizing GPS charting on a multi-function display, practicing with other sensors if equipped to learn how they operate. Situational awareness is at high levels. 
Second in line on the curve is the AMBER sector, positioned in the middle. It signifies the norm when it comes to boating. Seldom is the water surface completely smooth, with weather causing some disruption, and increasing traffic requiring more alert operation. This is where some boaters get complacent and unwanted events can follow. Recognizing the colored zone you are in on the curve is half the battle and will alert you to be increasingly aware of your surroundings and act accordingly.

The use of advanced electronics is more pronounced. Decisions for safe navigation and collision avoidance are weighed more using this technology. However there are at times problems with lack of training or familiarity with the advanced sensors resulting in misinterpretation of the data. Situational awareness is at moderate levels.
The last segment of the curve is ORANGE in color. Conditions for safe boating are greatly reduced due to restricted visibility, mechanical failure, injury, grounding, boats in close proximity, and other operational issues. This is where USCG license and Safe Boating training comes in handy. There should always be other methods of navigation in order to verify information and execute proper decisions to safely move on the water. Advanced navigation, communication electronics are used and relied upon almost exclusively, especially radar if available. First action should be to slow down, don life-jackets, and stop if necessary to further assess your situation. Understanding the Rules of the Road is key to reducing risk in this environment. Situational awareness is extremely difficult and at the lowest level.
To successfully operate in the last part of the curve will require concise attention to detail without distractions. Crew, even passengers, should assist where able or assigned. Always remember to plan and get ready for the possibility you will encounter this scenario. Preparation instead of reaction is always the best way to counteract and avoid these situations. If you want to know more, contact me to discover how to expertly prepare for ... The Johnson Curve.

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