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Dec. 1, 2020
4:14 pm


Steve Johnson's Boating Safety

Watch for the dangerous curve ahead

There are countless reasons for hazardous situations resulting in risk of collision or grounding while on the water. Most of them include one specific fundamental when it comes to safe control of your vessel. That fundamental is called advance and transfer. The diagram displays how this works. Let’s dissect this representation to its core and discover where the hazards reside in this important aspect of piloting.  
All watercraft behave differently when underway, even those of the same design and class. Factors for this behavior include weight distribution, position of the pivot point, height of the center of gravity, environment, and other influences that always play an integral part of maneuvering and behavior of the vessel. One of the most important responsibilities in navigation is to always know your position within reasonable accuracy, and be able to maneuver your vessel precisely.

These tasks require three prime elements of safe navigation: speed, distance, and time. And the elements are constantly changing. This has an immediate effect resulting with a dynamic shift in the shape of the curve for “advance and transfer.” High speeds will give an extended “advance,” increasing the distance traveled in the original direction. This is the zone or area where a great percentage of the maneuvering risk is located. One of the biggest misconceptions by inexperienced boat drivers is the vessel will act like a vehicle on a roadway. It may be similar in some respect, as if driving on ice or a slippery surface, but that’s where the resemblance ends. 
There is a remedy, a control point, to “advance and transfer” that is easy to master. It is directed in the USCG Rules of the Road in various sections. The most notable: Rule 8 ­– Action to Avoid Collision: 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 are driving your boat please remember there might just be a dangerous curve ahead.
This is a reprinted column that has appeared in Lakeside News.

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

November 2020 column

The Danger Zone

One of the main objectives in safe boating is to avoid accidents, especially collisions with another moving vessel. Of the three possible situations that are described with detail in the Rules: “Overtaking” is a special type of safe passage maneuver that is often the most dangerous and sometimes the most unobservable situations a boat or PWC operator will experience. The lack of horizontal or lateral movement between vessels is the main reason. It is much more difficult to assess bearing drift, the primary element critical for collision avoidance, from a narrow angle than to observe from a side view vantage point. The diagram displayed shows the danger zone labeled “Overtaking Sector” which is the area where the hazard resides. The break between 22.5 degrees behind the beam on both sides highlights the demarcation. Further in the Rules it states that you are still not relieved of responsibility as the operator in charge of the overtaking vessel until you are “finally past and clear” of the vessel you are overtaking. That means moving away from and not just crossing into the 22.5 degree zone on either side of the vessel.
The USCG Navigation Rules of the Road is sometimes difficult to properly comprehend and apply. If you should need a refresher in the required discipline please contact me to discover how. The USCG Commandant Instruction on Navigation Rules consists of 38 International and 11 Inland Differences, all of which support one main, exact requirement – to avoid collision with another vessel in sight of each other.  The correct application and interpretation of these requirements yields great results. Thinking ahead and visualizing possible outcomes is paramount to your overall success in safe navigation.

If you find yourself in the Overtaking Sector while you are passing another boat please consider these three basic actions:
  • Make the approach to pass outside the wake pattern of the vessel being overtaken
  • Slow down or stop to reduce the relative speed between both vessels if you are unsure of how the situation is developing
  • Be prepared to safely turn away at any time during the evolution.  
It’s a simple fix to a big challenge and if performed correctly is a tremendous asset. The chief problem is that this position can also be extremely difficult to recognize in a reasonable amount of time to properly react. The best course of action is to avoid it all together if possible.

October 2020 column

Know the difference between 'beware,' and 'be aware'

The headline contains similar sounding words if you say them fast enough. But with one extra letter, and the space in between, that changes everything. 
So how are these terms related to boating safety? Each and every watercraft operator, crewmember, and even passengers need to recognize the significant difference between these two interpretations.
“Beware” means to be careful, take heed, and watch out, which are all part of boating safety and primarily used in expectation to a possible dangerous situation. 
“Be Aware” takes the lead in every sense of the word and meaning. It refers to assessing risk, predicting plausible outcomes, and taking corrective steps to prevent a “bad situation” in the first place. Proper boating safety education develops an understanding of what will happen if certain actions are taken, both positive and negative. It all stems from the correct evaluation of the situation. In order to perform that accurately, you should be aware of the scenarios. Wearing a lifejacket is a prime example of this mindset.  
There are many factors to consider when it comes to safely operating a watercraft. Sometimes boat operators get caught up in the moment, become distracted, and do not keep the full picture of what is happening around or on the vessel. This element is called “Situational Awareness,” an extremely valuable skill set that comes only with experience and cannot be taught in any standard classroom.

Everything comes down to one moment in time when the decision to take a specific action. It is required by the International Maritime Organization and USCG that certain types of deck watch officers on commercial vessels be evaluated using decision-making assessments called Officer in Charge of a Navigation Watch (OICNW). These full-mission simulations or real-world training exercises provide scenarios for the pilot to make  navigation choices on the information they are presented, both electronically and visually.

Each student is measured by their response. It is much preferred to conduct this type of assessment in a controlled setting without hazard to crew, vessel, and environment. This education creates awareness and provides a vivid, emotional example for someone to learn from experience, advancing their capabilities.
If you knew in advance the results of your actions when operating your vessel, would you make them more carefully, and with greater precision? Awareness is the foundation of boating safety education which ultimately benefits all of us that enjoy the water. Contact me to discover more. 
Which would you prefer: Beware or Be Aware?
This is a reprinted column that has appeared in Lakeside News.

September 2020 column


How we obtain knowledge in this environment

“Knowledge is Power.” That’s a quote from Francis Bacon in the late 1500s and used by Thomas Jefferson, also a Founding Father, the third president of the U.S., and founder of a major institution of learning in the State of Virginia. Today, the challenge is how to obtain that essential knowledge and what method of delivery to use?  Almost everyone was quickly forced to online learning earlier this year, which in itself can be problematic. It is a useful platform of information but it also requires the ability to reorganize how you receive knowledge and also, what you do with it. I am not qualified to comment on anything in the current educational environment. That is a topic of contentious and vigorous debate. However, I can comment on the subject matter of training, and assessments for skill-sets as they relate to the maritime realm. 
Some USCG License schools are built around a physical location. There is nothing wrong with that business approach, but with the current restrictions of physical distancing, that type of learning environment can have adverse effects while utilizing the classroom method. In-person is still preferred by many because it delivers the personal touch to the learning process. This is made possible because of the additional non-verbal language that comprises most of the communication we experience normally. 
The next option of teaching is online. Again, there are training institutions that currently do not have approved online courses of instruction for the USCG License. This situation eventually transforms the delivery method to what is commonly referred to as Distance Learning. Instead of being present in class, you can receive the instruction online, live webinar portals, such as Zoom for example. That method of education can be difficult to produce and received by the audience for a wide variety of reasons. It is, however, the system used by some schools with success. There is also a variant of distance learning that incorporates more of a change in the point-of-view. Having a live camera shot from a classroom setting does have more power than just an online webinar presence. The slight change in production delivers more of a live telecast then just a webinar event.
There is another very remarkable educational system I want to introduce, concentrating on boating safety type instruction, such as the USCG Captain’s License and other subjects. What if you could combine the best of both academic worlds: in-person classrooms with superior online content? It is possible. 
Mastering the USCG Navigation Rules of the Road by this blended approach is a prime example of Knowledge is Power. The understanding of those regulations alone has enduring benefits, giving you the ability to assess risk, predict dangerous situations with accuracy, and taking corrective actions. 
The procedures to obtain the license or take a boating safety course of instruction are not as difficult with the right guidance. That is exactly where my experience can be of service. Whether you need a refresher in the basics, complicated tasks such as piloting or operating your advanced marine technology, there is a large network of professional organizations and schools nearby that can help you achieve your goals in marine education. 
There are many different ways to get the most out of your training options. Blended format of training is one of the premier techniques to harness that potential, producing outstanding results in boating safety and compliance. Do you want to know more? Because as they say, knowledge is power.

August 2020 column

Show your true colors

In today’s environment, the maxim of “show your true colors” can sometimes imply a negative meaning. The specific phrase has origins from long ago – with the use of flags or pennants by warships. It was a common practice involving sea warfare back during that period for ships to hoist their national flags before engaging in close-quarters battle. Even back then, this was a very effective strategy – using misinformation to gain an advantage. In the 17th century, it was a common tactic for Spanish ships to hoist false flags, thus confusing their enemy. This practice introduced a seldom-used term: “to bamboozle” into our language. 
The phrase “showing your true colors” lends itself to many things in our world today, above andbeyond its maritime origin. A prime example of a nautical flag, and one that a lot of people have never seen or recognized, is the U.S. Coast Guard Ensign. Approved by President John Adams and first raised on August 1, 1799, to signify the United States ship that carried the banner was a cutter of the Revenue-Marine, eventually in time becoming the U.S. Coast Guard.

The premier maritime law enforcement branch, initially part of the Department of the Treasury, was formed by the combination of the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service on January 28, 1915, signed by President Woodrow Wilson. When underway at sea on patrol or mission, flying the flag granted the Cutter Captain the authority to use extreme measures, if necessary, to stop a vessel. Even today, a USCG Cutter during a law enforcement mission must fly the Ensign. During my career serving on many Coast Guard assets, the flag was always prominently flown when underway regardless of what we were doing or where we were headed.

 A full description of the flag and other links can be found at
The USCG Ensign speaks volumes about the organization, its mission, and the men and women that answer the call to protect and serve along the nation’s waterways. When you see the USCG Auxiliary on the lake, whose primary mission is recreational boating safety, know they are an integral part of that flag and the group of professionals it proudly represents. This is without a doubt … our true colors.

July 2020 column

Three words for the current times: turning the corner

The first known use of this idiom, at least nautically, was when ships at sea would proceed past Cape Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, or Cape Horn, the very end of South America. Surface conditions on the oceans in those areas are normally very rough with intense waves, currents, and wind. The task is a tremendous challenge for clipper ships in those extreme conditions and even the biggest vessels on the water today have difficulty properly navigating.

Once you made it safely around the point, the waves would begin to diminish and wind to calm. That meant better things were coming, at least regarding the state of the sea. It has always been considered by mariners around the world as one of the most demanding bodies of water to pilot below each continent on the planet, since recorded maritime records or logs were kept describing the dangerous transit. If you want to witness an interesting passage of a ship around Cape Horn search the topic on YouTube.
This expression, “Turning the Corner,” in addition to its nautical origins, has a tremendously important meaning and application to our daily lives, gauging from the beginning of the year. The phrase is now frequently used describing the process of emerging from a difficult situation, be it personal, physical, financial, or anything in between. Those three brief words that announce an undeniable truth and something to greatly look forward to – there are better times ahead. 
This mindset is somewhat similar to boating and water safety. Every move you make is a calculation awaiting the result of that action to be measured in order to get the best result. Everything that has happened in past experiences is something that is giving a forecast for what is waiting. Applying that specific knowledge and understanding makes anything capable of being transformed and utilized for benefit with the right approach.

Always anticipate the unexpected with what you have trained for and observed. The easiest way to prepare for any contingency is to learn from a reliable source. I have always found that the major advantage of the internet is the ability to gather information quickly. Yes, some of the content is questionable, but you might also agree, there are some great informational videos, courses of instruction to read and digest, for your benefit when you need the knowledge the most for whatever reason, boating safety included. 
Just like rounding the Cape in a stormy sea, there may be rougher times ahead followed by something better, waiting your arrival. I sincerely wish everyone is having a great boating and water safety season. Please remember that better times – are just around the corner.

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