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Jul. 2, 2020
3:13 pm


Steve Johnson's Boating Safety

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.

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

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?

February 2020 column

Keep these cold water boating tips

On many advanced marine electronics systems there is a button normally labeled MOB, specifically designed to give the exact position of someone that has fallen into the water so the boat operator can make a speedy recovery, especially in cold water conditions.  Hypothermia is dangerous and threatens survival. Required by maritime rules, commercial licensed and military mariners practice this scenario in any weather or sea condition. There are three different maneuvers or “turns” to accomplish that objective.
For those of you that have taken boating and license courses the “Williamson Turn” is introduced as a maneuver to return to the exact place where the person and retrace the path of the vessel on reciprocal course.Its chief advantage is to return to that position accurately in any condition of visibility or sea state.


In calmer waters, especially the lake, making a round turn or “Anderson Turn” would enable you to return to the position quicker.  The advantage of this recovery method is a reduction in time to position. As a boat operator you should always employ situational awareness and if this event occurs you would immediately know safe turning areas to get you there.  Approaching from this method would also allow you to maneuver up-wind to the person, which is the best and safest way to recover. 

A sometimes even quicker maneuver to return to the MOB position is to execute a “Scharnow Turn.”As you will see from the website graphic it is a quick turn of 240 degrees and also absolutely requires having the person in the water in sight at all times. During the turn there is sometimes the tendency to lose geographical orientation. The datum mark on the GPS chart will help guide if you are equipped but visual contact is even more important and crucial to quick rescue.

These three turns are just a few examples of the process to assist in MOB. More importantly, you have a plan and practice it enough for it to become second nature.  Think about taking a boating safety class this year from the USCG Auxiliary or the Atlanta Sail & 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 to learn more. 

Lake waters are hypothermia hazards and will remain so for a few months to come. Cold water boating brings a different set of considerations and awareness to your experience and with proper preparation and training can make for a great time on the water.
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