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Steve Johnson's Boating Safety

The balancing act - it's important on the water

This column is the wrap-up of a multi-part series involving human senses as they pertain to Safe Boating and Navigation. 

The sense of balance is an integral part conditions experienced by mariners also known as vestibular. Just as vessels on the water need balance for stability and safe movement, so do human beings that operate them. Balance also gives the feeling of acceleration. The most crucial component of this sensory is how the platform on which you are positioned is moving. The negative side of this situation is called vertigo. I’m not qualified to even describe all the causes of this human ailment but it is a real challenge when a person begins to lose the sense of balance with the aspect of adverse water surface conditions. 
 
Have you ever been afflicted with sea sickness before? There are various remedies for this malady by taking a pill, putting a patch behind the ear, or even wearing a simple device that wraps around your wrist and compresses against a specific spot. As detailed in USCG license training, a watercraft can move in multiple paths or divergent motions when on the water and of course that depends on numerous factors, especially if in rough conditions. These common movements that can effect human balance are:
 
Roll – The vessel moving back and forth on a longitudinal axis and the most common of movements encountered.
List – A set degree of leaning over caused by off-center weight distribution. Sailboats often have a list as they move through the water.
Pitch – The condition by where the boat is moving up and down at the bow and stern and similar to a see-saw positioned at a fulcrum. This can cause the misery of sea sickness and also can have negative effects on the stability of the vessel as well.
Heave – A combination of pitch and roll. It can have severe consequences when it comes to vessel stability and as the old seafarer saying goes: when the boat is heaving, so are you! 
Yaw – A dangerous condition of loss of balance of the vessel and can cause catastrophic rollover of the craft if not contained or corrected quickly. It is the sideways movement of the vessel as it travels through the water causing it to lose stability or known by another deadly name, tripping.
 
As you can see there are many factors relating to your balance when boating. It’s how you react to these influences and the procedures you employ to reduce the effects that will determine the end results. There are countless procedures to remedy these situations and the most advantageous one to utilize is to simply Slow Down! I am not suggesting that you come to a complete stop but reduce speed enough to maintain steerageway or control of the heading of your boat that will pay the biggest dividends in safety. Many a maritime tragedy has been caused by these underway motions of a vessel and the chances of them impacting your voyage can be greatly reduced if you use proper maneuvering or handling techniques.  
 
It is imperative that you maintain stability of not only the craft, but of you as well. Loss of balance means loss of helm control and the ability of recognizing correct alignment of movement. During my career at sea on many types of ships and ocean environments, keeping my sense of balance has enabled me to correctly navigate and direct the ship. It also works wonders to relieve the dreaded curse of sea sickness.


Steve Johnson, US Coast Guard (ret). is with CPO Johnson, Inc. More info: Steve@CPOJohnson.comwww.cpojohnson.com.






November 2019 column

The more you show, the more you know

This is the fourth installment of the five-part series on human senses as they pertain to safe boating and navigation. 

The sense of “awareness” is actually a combination of communication inputs from different sources. It provides answers to four  questions in regard to the operation of your vessel: who, what, when, and where? To know, understand, and properly act using this sensory skill will keep you much safer in all facets of the on the water experience, be it commercial or pleasure craft. The most common reference to this condition is called Situational Awareness. A more detailed description is found by searching the term on Wikipedia.
 
So what is Situational Awareness and how does it really apply to Safe Boating? It is part of all aspects of moving about, secured to the dock, or at anchor. It keeps you informed as to your surroundings, it serves to protect you from navigation dangers, warns of risk of collision, and even gives your exact geographic position on demand. It’s not just the technology that delivers the benefit, but how the data is used in the decision making process, the real crux of this necessary know-how. 
 
Each component of this information combines with follow-on actions. These measures are then reduced down to these possibilities to every situation: Yes/No, Go/Don’t Go, and Speedup/Stop. You can see the correlation. Situational Awareness, and the capability to utilize its function, is one of the most important segments of boating. This responsibility always demands correct interpretation of the knowledge to provide reduction of risk. 
 
Every mode of transportation has unique characteristics while in operation. The one common thread they share for safety is this valuable sensory ability. Here are some tips to improve your boating Situational Awareness:
 
• Always engage the duties of lookout as stated in Rules of the Road
• Understand and apply Safe Speed (Rule 6) at all times
• Know how to assess Risk of Collision (Rule 7)
• Develop tactics, strategies, and Actions to Avoid Collision (Rule 8) 
• Use multiple navigation methods to confirm geographic position
• Voyage planning and weather forecast before departure
• Passenger briefing, safety, lifejackets, and emergencies
• Check lights, horn, anchor, and all other mechanical systems
• Communications, navigation, and other multi-function displays
• MOB practice exercises or discussions with passengers/crew
• Have a second in command ready to assume pilot duties if needed.
 
There are numerous places to acquire this basic training and development of this valuable skill. Some forms of boating safety education have been specifically designed to prepare you for what to expect. Of course, nothing replaces actual experience. 
 
If you want to quickly improve in this aptitude then I recommend do this one thing every opportunity, because it is so true when it comes to learning and safer boating: The more you show ... the more you know.

October 2019 column

Here's the question: Can you feel it?

The following is the third installment of a series about the five human senses as they apply to Safe Boating and Navigation:

This month’s is about the sensation of touch. The faculty of feeling is unique in boating considering all the different motions you may encounter on the water. Recognizing the cause of the sensations is paramount to a safer and more enjoyable experience when underway. Here are but a few samples describing the tactile input called touch for you to consider.
 
Sometimes the vibrations that you feel when operating your boat play an important part of the assessment of the seaworthy condition of the vessel. Take the situation when moving in rough waters called “pounding.” Even the largest of ships that ply the high seas are affected during severe inclement weather. When a vessel, regardless of size and design, begins to pound, you will immediately know it.

A shock wave travels from the impact of the water on the hull and the resulting vibration is unmistakable. You can have the same effect on the lake when you begin to notice a hard slap of a wave on the boat that is reoccurring at intervals growing faster in frequency. That condition needs to be quickly addressed by slowing down. The ride may become somewhat rougher with the waves moving you back and forth. However, the most important benefit is the force of water impacting your craft is diminished greatly by this action. It will also help reduce or eliminate the chance of damage to the structural integrity of the vessel.
 
Another form of touch is the sensation of heat. It is obvious that engines produce heat. However, take into account whether you should feel radiant high temperatures from places where it should not be present. If so, then you may have an urgent problem that needs immediate action. Fires on marine watercraft can be fierce and cause complete destruction in a short amount of time. Take for example the recent maritime tragedy off the coast of California on the dive boat that was destroyed in minutes by a raging fire, killing 34. If you feel something, then investigate the source. It could save everything by quick response.
 
And another touch: know your way “in the dark.” It is crucial for getting out of a space when there are no lighted conditions to guide you. The best time to learn and practice this skill is when you can see and closely inspect the area of travel. Commit to memory how to move about quickly by feeling the surroundings. Keep in mind there are also other safety factors to take into account such as hazards of knife edges or other obstacles that may be in your way. Some of you may recognize this requirement when you fly on passenger planes. The flight crew will always ask you to identify the nearest exit. That’s the same concept for the maritime environment.   
 
As you can see, there are many variables to the sense of touch when it comes to boating safety. Experience will be your best guide. Learning the many sensations of boating will keep you informed, make your voyage safer and definitely much more satisfying. There are many ways to say ... Can you feel it?

September 2019 column

Lookout ... here it comes!

The following is the second installment of a series focusing on the human senses of hearing, sight, touch, awareness, and balance and how they relate to safe boating. 

A “lookout” is mandatory, according to maritime collision avoidance regulations also known as the Rules of the Road. 
 
The rule states: “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”
 
There’s a lot of substance in that small paragraph. What exactly is a Lookout and how is it effectively used to help you avoid an incident? That depends on a multitude of factors, one of initial importance is the location where you are operating the vessel. Lakes are only one of a numerous marine environments, each having its own characteristics. What all safe navigation operations have in common is a dedicated lookout, one that is not encumbered by interference, noise, distractions, and other inhibitors. The lookout must also be able to describe what they are seeing adequately enough to make a correct decision.
 
Regardless of where you are boating, it always pays to conduct a visual search of your surroundings, at all times. It is also framed as a segment of sensory input relating to Situational Awareness, something we will digest more in detail as this series progresses. 
 
When would be a good time to practice this much needed skill to remain safe while on the water? Well, all the time would be the answer. And it would greatly reduce your chances of an incident. Think of it this way, please. Just as you do visually with driving your vehicle on roadways, so should you apply the same care while operating on the water, even more so in the marine environment given the variables of the watercraft and other conditions. 
 
Only a fraction of the available courses of instruction in the maritime training marketplace address this requirement for a proper lookout. Two of the prominent ones: Bridge Resource Management and Officer in Charge of a Navigational Watch. Both cover a vast array of possibilities and situations, plus testing the pilot of the vessel. The next best thing beyond VR simulation and these training courses is actual experience. That’s where most boaters learn how to conduct an effective lookout regiment enhancing the ability to avoid danger. Each and every time you go out on the water you should be asking: do I have a proper lookout? 
 
Things can happen very quickly on a vessel underway. Developing this vital human sense of Sight can benefit you, your passengers, and others on the water in many ways. Most mariners would agree: accidents are not planned, so plan not to have one.
 

August 2019 column

Hey, can you hear me now?

The next few articles will be a series dealing with the five prominent human senses as they apply to safe boating and correct navigation: hearing, sight, touch, awareness, and balance. 
 
Let’s begin with hearing. Imagine if your ability to see with unrestricted visibility on the water was quickly reduced to almost zero. You have probably experienced this weather situation driving your vehicle on the roadway. It can be a very disturbing event. 
 
When it comes to boating operations, it is best served safely and that includes confidently maneuvering in adverse conditions. If you go out on the water, for whatever reason, you will someday most likely encounter the scenario of low visibility. It comes in a variety of forms; fog, rain, smoke, day or night, and various combinations of all factors. This dangerous  encounter doesn't have to be the end of your voyage, but it does require you to engage other senses, especially hearing, to navigate safely through the risky situation. The proficient use of advanced electronics such as Radar, GPS, and FLIR can be of great value. There is no room for error, everything is at stake, with final decisions to be made expressly by you, the person in charge of piloting the vessel. How’s that for pressure? 
 
Something remarkable happens almost immediately as the ability to see begins to diminish. Unlike a road surface where you can feel a subtle change in your movement by the tires as the vibration reflects off the surface of the pavement. Even a sense of direction by your vehicle is discernable within close proximity and markings on the traffic lanes. On the water, those sensory impressions do not exist. The audible input of hearing sound now takes an even more profound importance to your journey. By proper listening methods, you can calculate approximately whether the object is close by, approaching, crossing, and even moving safely away from your position. It is called the Doppler Effect (for info search Wikipedia). This boating safety capability does take some practice and is very achievable with time and experience.
 
How would you practice something of this nature and complexity? The next time you’re underway or at the mooring, in any condition of visibility, safely close or cover your eyes. If the unwanted noise level on your vessel is low enough, you can begin to experience the sense of hearing and how it is described in the Doppler Effect. If the sound increases then the object is moving toward you, lowering of the audible signal shows divergence. Ascertaining lateral movement by sound, to the right or left demonstrates bearing drift meaning the object will most likely pass your position without incident, although risk is always present until it is well past and clear.
 
If you should ever experience this situational risk while underway, immediately slow down, affix your navigational position with waypoint on your Multi-Function Display if you have one and intently listen to what is going on around the vessel. You'll be amazed at how keen your sense of hearing becomes in times like this. Sound travels in a distinct pattern that is very recognizable with practice. Also let other nearby boats know your location with proper sound signals as listed in the Navigation Rules of the Road. It all comes down to this: Can you hear me now?


July 2019 column

Journey to everywhere

Where do you want to go? Just plug the information into your GPS device and the voice on the other end begins to speak to you, turn by turn directions to your destination. Factor in user preferences, multiple routes, even the different types of views and map orientation, plus many more options. That’s a fair description of what is commonplace now, regardless of application in a vehicle, boat, or aircraft. Imagine what the near future holds for GPS and multi-function displays that will receive the broadcast of reliable guidance from space orbit … and other technology platforms.
 
This commentary is specific to the Global Positioning System, GPS, as it pertains to the maritime realm. There is a very interesting timeline you can read on the link below from another professional blogger that just about sums it up in a few pages answering when, how, and who was responsible for this remarkable innovation of geo position finding capability: https://tedium.co/2018/01/11/gps-history-evolution/.
 
Beginning with Sputnik in the late ’50s, then progressing to the military, especially the U.S. Navy, the technology was finally released for public use during the latter period of President Bill Clinton’s time in office. It has definitely become one of the main components in our society for an immense variety of applications and utility.  
 
There is another side to this incredible advancement in capability with marine navigation that has a not-so-positive image. It all seems made possible because of over-reliance by the operator on one sensor or standard to safely pilot a watercraft, big, small and all others in between. I highly recommend you fully understand your GPS system and complete utilization of all available features. It will protect by providing precise geographic information and other control data at extremely fast intervals. If you have questions or want to know more about advanced maritime technology please contact me or visit www.CPOJohnson.com.
 
With all that high tech, it is always accurate. That is actually not a completely correct statement, although the large number of operators believe it is valid. History records that some users complained years ago that the government was intentionally adjusting the data, giving less than accurate geographic position with GPS. In today’s modern world of transportation there is the possibility that navigational fixes by satellite might have some error, infrequently. There are numerous variables in the way the receiver is designed, if the latest software updates are installed, or the Multi-Function Display is not up to date.
 
Why look out from the helm at the surrounding area when I can just rely on my GPS? That frequently happens and it all falls back to the mandate clearly stated in the Rules of the Road, Rule 5 – Look-out – 83.05 Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision. 
 
There is an ever expanding evolution of navigational devices in the marketplace. They comes in all shapes and sizes, with the ability to deliver lightning quick positional information and direction to just about any place on Earth. Now you really can ... journey to everywhere.

June 2019 column

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.
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