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Your complete online news, information, and recreation guide to Lake Lanier
Sep. 20, 2020
1:05 am


Steve Johnson's Boating Safety

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.

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

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.

June 2020 column

The meaning of 'showing the ropes'

This nautical parlance is sometimes used in our English vocabulary and is subject specifically of the word, ropes. The phrase actually refers to knowledge and level of understanding which can be applied to many subjects and tasks. It is a requirement for anything that you do, especially in something as complex as boating. The origins are nautical, and are a required skill demand in terms of being a crew member on sailing ships. 
It also comes in three different versions or levels of proficiency: Learning the Ropes, Knowing the Ropes, and Showing the Ropes. It is identical to progression of knowledge and understanding on how to accomplish things, certainly in the expanse of the maritime realm. A great way to make your voyages more enjoyable and secure is to perform three things: learn, know, and then show, in that order. This valuable knowledge is crucial to the success of that objective making the water environment much safer for everyone. 
Maritime know-how may originate from online, a class, or demonstration, and is most effective if performed by actual witness from trained boaters to fellow enthusiasts that are new to the aquatic lifestyle. The best long term, productive, teaching methods always incorporate a transfer of personal experience.

Not just words or graphics followed by a multiple choice examination but something more profound and tangible that changes the attitude and actions by the receiver of the information. Once you have become more comfortable and confident in the boating safety elements of learning and knowing then you are ready for the final and most important step – showing. It is one of the most essential measures to progress forward in this quest for improving recreational boating safety, an important mission of the U.S. Coast Guard and Auxiliary. 
It is also absolutely true, “The more you show the more you know.” Showing someone the ropes actually begins a voyage of influence to those that take to the water. Boating safety is not a one size fits all approach as there are numerous aspects to consider. It is the awareness of risk generated by communication that results in taking actions to avoid an incident. It is preparation, practice, and the remarkable combination that develops a resource and will eventually become instinctive – a permanent part of your boating and water safety mindset.

The process of learning a skill and passing it on to someone has lasting, profoundly positive results to not only the student but the mentor as well. You can reach this goal through many professional organizations and schools that specialize in this discipline. Regardless of the level of experience, everyone needs some degree of training, whether for introduction of general information, renewal of license, a proficiency assessment for a credential, or just to improve on their nautical skills. Want to discover how?
Let me “Show You the Ropes.”

May 2020 column


Whatever floats your boat

This article marks the beginning of a series profiling common idioms and phrases spoken over the years that have their genesis in the maritime domain. You will see in the coming editions how our language has been influenced by these expressions.
Let’s begin with a maxim that has perception regarding your vessel but in fact is much more profound. “Whatever floats your boat,” was believed to be first used in the mid 1900s; actually referring to making a personal decision about a certain subject or task. It also basically implied indifference which also has a direct reference to boating safety, or the lack thereof. Although the meaning of the phrase is not directly connected to a boat, it has an important lateral meaning and message, something we will discuss further.
Summer boating season is almost here. I will admit, from the earlier date of original submission of this draft, I do not know what awaits us in this new version of normal. Each day brings something unique, and unexpected. My objective this month of May is to remind everyone of the significance of risk management and water safety, celebrating National Safe Boating Week, May 16th through May 22nd.

Boating statistics are undeniable mathematics and not subject to personal opinion. The numbers conclusively point to drowning as the leading cause of death in water related accidents. According to published information found in the U.S. Coast Guard brochure, How to Choose the Right Life Jacket; “one-half of all recreational boating fatalities happen in calm water.” If you want to understand more about how to prevent incidents such as these or obtain a copy of the informational pamphlet, please contact the USCG Auxiliary, America’s Boating Club, or a  Recreational Boating Safety Program Partner.
Accidents always come unexpectedly as we all realize. There are many elements of boating safety but not all components are equal in benefit, some even unintentionally regarded with complacency. The most critical aspect, and also the easiest to apply, is properly wearing a life jacket. Please prepare for the possibility of needing the extra buoyancy when something happens and that moment arrives. 
Maybe the old saying of “Whatever Floats Your Boat” needs to be edited to read: “Whatever floats YOU and your boat.”

April 2020 column

The Demolition Derby

Some of you may have had the opportunity of attending one of these vehicle sporting events in the past. Older model, heavy, very elaborately dented and decorated cars hurl around a dirt covered arena, sometimes at high speeds. The ultimate goal: wreck as many opponents as possible and be the last car driving. The defined area for this spectacle has no lane dividing lines, directional signs, lights, or smooth pavement to guide the way. The result is a noisy, action packed experience for both spectator and driver.
Does this description sound somewhat familiar on the Lake Lanier during peak, crowded times? After just a few hours the surface of the water becomes much rougher with wake and wave. Vessel traffic increases with each one traveling a different direction and speed, adding to the risk of collision or grounding. These are the times when being on the water feels like the Demolition Derby.
There is a remedy to this unwanted situation and it delivers outstanding benefits to everyone involved and to general boating safety especially. It is as simple as information! While there are numerous methods and organizations where you can get boat training, nothing compares to the professional delivery by a skilled maritime instructor, resulting in awareness, positive change, and increased safety.

That can be achieved by attending training sessions with other like-minded boaters. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and America’s Boating Club (formerly the Atlanta Sail & Power Squadron) have some of the best training syllabus and instructors around. 
Please contact me to discover more about all the different options for this type of education. Learning as a group, coupled with innovative media and techniques, provides the foundation of understanding needed to function as a vessel pilot in challenging conditions. Please note that safe operation of your vessel is a requirement, not an option. Actual on the water experience is the best teacher with the conventional or online environment primarily serving as introduction to the necessary skills of vessel control and navigation. You have to start somewhere in the learning process, and initial training is the best method to accomplish it.
I have often compared boating to some aspects of driving a vehicle on the roadways, as the dynamics are similar. Maritime safety knowledge, with correct application, is necessary for everyone’s protection. You can see the results of transportation incidents on the news all the time. Regardless if you are driving a vehicle or a vessel, the main objective is to travel to your intended destination without hitting something or hurting someone.  
Learning is a continuous journey of discovery. Why not find out how to expand your boating knowledge and reap the numerous benefits by avoiding – The Demolition Derby.

March 2020 column


Be prepared for what happens next

Boating safety is a broad topic provided by various agencies, governments, manufacturers, and schools or training institutions that serve as instruction. Breaking it down to the core or definition of what boating safety is really all about would be ... knowing what happens next out on the water.
Let me relate this to something you are probably already good at: driving on a roadway. When the vehicle is moving you instinctively know what the outcome of your actions will be – at least most of the time. That especially is true with stopping safely, avoiding collisions, and other adverse situations you routinely see. By applying this knowledge you prevent accidents from happening in the first place.
Now back to operating a watercraft, regardless of type, size, and location. The proficiency of safely driving or piloting a vessel is to know what to expect as the result of your actions as operator. This would also include environmental and other factors that can effect maneuvering and other components of boating. There are ramifications for everything we do. The secret is to use that same knowledge to predict, with accuracy, the outcome. Having that sense of awareness through effective training creates better response, resulting in increased safety. Nothing replaces actual experience or great virtual simulation and there is an alternative to keep proficient in this realm, even if you have taken courses in the past. Taking a boating safety class, especially if you are a seasonal boater, may be benefical. It can refresh your know-how in marine related areas.
The need for safety, security, survival credentials and license renewal is mandated by the USCG and International Maritime Organization every five years for commercial mariners. The requirement doesn’t affect private boaters without a license or other certifications. Through many years of research and experience, the worldwide maritime industry realized the need for renewal of this knowledge base was very apparent and therefore made into law. 
The season is rapidly approaching so it’s time to begin preparing for an enjoyable and memorable time on the water. Consider adding some form of training to your experience and reap the numerous benefits boating safety has to offer. Contact me to learn more of how to develop these skills and be able to precisely answer: What Happens Next?
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