Steve Johnson's Boating Safety
How to experience smooth sailing
So just what is smooth sailing ... a distant outline of land on the horizon, the turquoise ocean, flat and glassy in appearance. The haze grey of mountains as they cast a faint, dim shadow over the surface of the water and sky, clouds billowing over top of the warmer land surface. It’s an extraordinary but familiar sight for officers and crew of the US Coast Guard Mohawk, a 270’ Medium Endurance Cutter on patrol in the Caribbean. One that I had the honor of serving with, when it was one of the newest ships in the fleet. Not always a smooth ride, especially in the Florida Straits. In an instant the wind can shift, backing or veering, coming from the Northeast, opposing the flow of the Gulf Stream, creating something just short of “Hell on Water.” Waves rapidly rising as short period, large troughs, cresting over the top of some of the tallest ships that ply this sea. It’s also the birthplace of some of the strongest storms and tropical systems on the planet. Migrant rescue is a frequent mission in this area, foul weather always complicating the situation, and exponentially increasing the risk.
Crossing the Straits is a true adventure all to itself. Imagine cruising to Cuba by boat, visiting ports of call that have been hidden in plain sight for more than 50 years. That is permitted now and the area is beginning to come to life with activity and commerce. The destination may be close to many ports in the United States and for those boaters that want to travel to this historic tropical paradise, the primary thing you need to safely transit is: Experience. That is available in a variety of forms: hire a skilled, certified Captain with a USCG License or attend the training yourself and learn from professional mariners and instructors. It makes a huge difference in every aspect of navigation and delivers an incredibly positive and safe voyage.
As you visit the Atlanta Boat Show this year please keep “learning: in mind as you see amazing advancements in technology, and watercraft. Innovations are developing at record speed, sometimes the latest becomes the last in the rapidly evolving world of improvements, within a very short span of time.
Winter season is upon us, now a great time to invest in training, the kind that will benefit you the most. The spectrum of this type of education spans from advanced electronics, boating safety basics, license, to hands-on events. Online and in-class resources also abound in the surrounding area delivered by some of the best experts and organizations in the business. Contact me if you want to discover how this class of education can greatly benefit your on the water experience and increase boating safety for everyone. You can find me at the vendor display booths for Sea School, SIMRAD, and the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. Hope to see you there!
Take time to learn and become proficient. In other words, make your next journey smooth sailing.
Steve Johnson, US Coast Guard (ret). is with CPO Johnson, Inc. More info: Steve@CPOJohnson.com, www.cpojohnson.com.
December 2016 column
The most important 'Thing' in safe boating
Safe Speed, Rule 6, is one of the best written laws in the entire navigation Rules of the Road document, and certainly one of the most crucial. Other directives come after it. All rules are important, yet contingent on this one very important factor about a moving vessel on the water. Increase in speed dynamically changes everything about your ability to handle your vessel ... in any condition.
How quickly you assess and process the critical data, especially in a maneuver, will determine your outcome in any navigation situation. Slowing things down can be a much needed action in times of increased hazards and situational awareness. Here is the actual key to reducing your risk on the water, increasing your boating safety, maximizing your enjoyment of boating, taken right out of the Navigation Rules of the Road:
RULE 6 Safe Speed
Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.
In determining a safe speed the following factors shall be among those taken into account:
(a) By all vessels:
(i) the state of visibility;
(ii) the traffic density including concentrations of fishing vessels or any other vessels;
(iii) the maneuverability of the vessel with special reference to stopping distance and turning ability in the prevailing conditions;
(iv) at night, the presence of background light such as from shore lights or from back scatter of her own lights;
(v) the state of wind, sea and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards;
(vi) the draft in relation to the available depth of water.
(b) Additionally, by vessels with operational radar:
(i) the characteristics, efficiency and limitations of the radar equipment;
(ii) any constraints imposed by the radar range scale in use;
(iii) the effect on radar detection of the sea state, weather and other sources of interference;
(iv) the possibility that small vessels, ice and other floating objects may not be detected by radar at an adequate range;
(v) the number, location and movement of vessels detected by radar;
(vi) the more exact assessment of the visibility that may be possible when radar is used to determine the range of vessels or other objects in the vicinity.
That about says it all, covers every point of view and interpretation. It is the one crucial point of each scenario, and is directly connected to the final outcome. The next time you venture out on the water keep Rule 6 in mind and always consider an option to allow more time by slowing down. It makes an incredibly positive difference to all things safe boating.
November 2016 column
Is LORAN making a comeback?
LORAN is an acronym and stands for Long Range Navigation. LORAN “A” was introduced in 1957 and first used by military ships an aircraft. LORAN “C” was the last main series update of this navigation system in the early 1970s. Countries around the world used LORAN C, even Russia having a similar system called CHAYKA. All LORAN Stations operating under US Coast Guard were shut down in February 2010. The paper charts used for the USCG License training still include these lines for navigation all over the surface.
Operators don’t see the lines on their chart display as modern boating relies primarily on GPS for that purpose. Most students in my license training and tutorial classes see all the lines covering the chart. It can sometimes be overwhelming to the visual senses with crowded shades of magenta, green, and gray. Continual plotting practice is really the only way to work this art form, using the right combination of proper instruction and syllabus.
Other maritime regions continued using LORAN although in a different format called eLORAN. The end of 2015 also has brought about closing almost all these stations in Europe, Asia, and other Continents.
Based on a news report from the Royal Institute of Navigation all European Loran-C stations – except the UK’s Anthorn – ceased transmitting at 1100 UTC on Dec. 31, 2015. “This decision to continue by the UK Government follows closely on the heels of the decision in September by the US National Executive Committee for Space Based PNT (EXCOM) that eLORAN ‘could be a viable nationwide complementary for GPS applications in US critical infrastructure.’ ”
There are a few interpretations that can be made from this specific paragraph. Could LORAN return as an auxiliary navigation system in the future, a back-up to GPS?
My experience tells me yes, in some fashion, as an alternate to the reliance on GPS. There is a reason why conventional technique is required for license. The basic premise is to not rely on one source of data in order to make decisions. Bringing eLORAN would add another alternative sensor to the mix. When using LORAN in the past, it afforded extremely accurate geographic position information in all types of operations. There was even a trend on over reliance in that system as well, but as time progressed GPS has taken over the task of advanced navigation, while at the same time creating a perception that the information is always flawless.
I’m not sure what a return of LORAN would look like in the modern world of vessel electronics. But I know that it would serve to improve boating safety through additional reliable sensor resource included on multi-function displays.
Another benefit would be the ability to revert to conventional charting using LORAN, if the procedure was needed. It may be considered an ancient process by some but I can assure you if it was working now, you would be amazed with its accuracy.
Sometimes the return of older technology, concepts can deliver benefits and improvements to the maritime world in general. Just ask someone who has used LORAN before and they will tell you.
October 2016 column
The many ways of learning modern marine navigation
The years of serving as navigator, instructor, and maritime course developer, has provided the opportunity of witnessing a rapid progression in advanced electronics, vessel design, and boating safety technology. The progression is partially due to the migration of these systems from defense to the general public. With that development comes the responsibility of operating the sensors properly and interpreting the information correctly. That’s some of what is the premise behind license, certification, and general knowledge training syllabus. Safety is the primary consideration, your voyage proceeding with greater efficiency, avoiding risk scenarios, all are a portion of the benefit for modern marine navigation. This accelerated barrage of innovations does however present a few concerns, and if not addressed properly with knowledge, understanding, proficiency could lead to a more risk prone boating environment.
Visit any large boating supply store and you will see the array of multifunction displays, communications, and sensors in the electronics section. Each manufacturer showcases their advantages, options, and other attributes. Having these choices should direct the focus on learning how to use them to their maximum potential. There are a multitude of problems that can arise from improper application, lack of understanding, and misinterpretation of data.
The real question is ... Where do you go to find expert guidance on operation of these advanced technologies?
There is an answer! I recently attended a USCG Auxiliary meeting at the lake and was introduced to some of the best developed and constructed series of instruction for boating that I have ever seen. It can be delivered online, presented in-class, or offered in a blended presentation. It covers a wide and critical range of subjects including GPS, voyage planning, emergency scenarios, communications, weather, and much more. There is nothing wrong with mastering conventional methods of navigation, but utilizing the newer forms and function of this science is exceptionally important to boating safety in these modern times.
Operational knowledge of the advancements and their attributes is power. You can better control your overall boating environment, ultimately your safety, and that of others you meet on the water.
The United States Power Squadron along with professional maritime organizations such as US Coast Guard Auxiliary, Boat US, and more, present a much needed solution to improved boating safety.
Visit the following websites for examples of these courses and see for yourself:
Modern Marine Navigation is here to stay, and getting more complex by the day. Be on the front line of proficiency and learn from some of the best resources offered and produced by experts. It can make a difference.
September 2016 column
Boating basics begin with 'Bowditch, Chapter 25'
Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), is often considered the father of modern navigation. He provided the foundation for the duties and responsibilities of a ship navigator in a book entitled, “The American Practical Navigator.” You can see his history online by searching his name on Wikipedia, then checking out the book name. It’s required reading for all military and professional mariners that serve as a navigation officer, pilot, or Captain.
Chapter 25 comprises only 10 pages of very specific, direct to the point, processes and tasks involved to control the movement of a ship, manage the bridge team, and deliver error free performance in all duties. New editions of the book have been produced throughout the years since the first publication, and it can be found on the web in full detail. Celestial, Terrestrial, and many other facets of navigation is based on this text along with numerous mathematical tables in both Volumes I and II.
Boating safety information and training comes from this basic origin, of course in much different format and content presentation. Each and every time you go out on the water you should organize, voyage plan, check weather forecast, prepare ample provisions, make safety checks, and brief passengers and crew. There are many types of preparation apps, advanced electronic multi function display tools to help you accomplish these meaningful tasks.
Preparation is the absolute best method to assure an incident free, good time on the water. It all stems from good boating information and training, delivered in such a fashion to produce a positive change. Increase in confidence, the destination, all serving effectively your time on the water.
The boating life has its numerous benefits and sometimes challenges. There is no specific answer to all the types of maritime risks except ... Knowledge, Understanding, and Proficiency. This can only be accomplished by the boater and is at very best, a continual process. This is what the famous Chapter 25 is all about. Proven methods, and ideas to always offer a positive navigation environment, at all times, in any condition. It’s not the same as pleasure boating but does present some exceptional ideas as to directly controlling your boating safety environment.
The original design of the book and Chapter 25 was intended for large ocean going ships. However, its application actually covers all types of vessels that operate on the water. Modern day boating safety training is the best format to help you discover the knowledge you need to make you a better and safer boat operator.
There are plenty of training outlets and organizations here at the lake. Contact me if you want to find out more about any type of training seminars and courses you might want. It all begins with “American Practical Navigator,” Bowditch, Chapter 25.
August 2016 column
The big three...
Known as the big three, knowledge, understanding, and proficiency, are the pillars of boating safety and education. In addition, these three core values are the international law governing training standards on commercial vessels: Standards of Training and Certified Watch Standing, STCW 95.
Professional licensed Masters and Mates must successfully complete this program and certification to work in foreign waters. These courses of instruction, either online or in class, are designed to provide the necessary elements to become more “Knowledgeable.” This is the normal progression that leads into the hands-on segment of the training or assessment, also known as “Proficiency.” It helps clear the way for good decision making when operating your vessel. The best part ... the big three can lead to a great event on the water and more apt to be free from incidents. There is however the opportunity to gather experience and understanding from making mistakes. This all reminds me of a quote by a brilliant lyricist and author: “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision,” – Paulo Coelho.
Take each and every close call, “almost ran aground” incident that you face on the water and learn from it. Identify the cause and resolution, preparing for the next time it happens, sometimes even preventing it from occurring. That’s the premise of boating education, learning from other examples and decision models. Have you thought about expanding your boating knowledge and safety?
Everyone has a different reason to learn, the common connection ... all need to be familiar with the basics. It all depends on your boating style, very much diverse with a wide variety of vessels and watercraft.
One of the most important aspects of safe boating is knowing how to respond and recognize risk when operating underway or even at the dock. We are required to perform the very same tasks when we drive our vehicles, boating is not different in that regard.
Most of the people you meet on the water do not fully comprehend the rules of conduct and sometimes find themselves in less than desirable situations when interacting with other vessels. Reasons are extensive but mainly limited to one chief element of time on the water which can only be cured with practice.
Why not make a commitment to learn more about boating through marine safety education programs offered by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, Sail and Power Squadron, courses on navigation rules of the road
, or even obtain a USCG license? This process can deliver remarkable results for your total boating experience, enhance your proficiency in the wide ranging skills of boating, and give you peace of mind, increasing your all around safety.
July 2016 column
New technology allows you to 'Kow Where To GO'
With every venture out on the water comes the opportunity to experience the technology of advanced electronics. The most impressive elements are presentation and ease of use. To arrive safely at your destination you need information, fast, accurate, and not difficult to read and understand. Regardless of the type of data, the process of extracting it should be similar to everyday devices you are accustomed to and familiar with. Smart phones, tablets, apps, all of which have a common thread of function and organization. High tech without simplicity of use is just another gadget.
The rapid evolution of new, innovative, marine information devices is now even more up to date with the introduction of a new generation of multi function displays, SIMRAD GO7 and GO5. The displays are a tremendous breakthrough for smaller vessels and operators that need affordable navigation presentation in a very straightforward to use format. Knowledge, understanding, and proficiency are the prominent factors in this class of MFD. Superior technology can be an integral part of your boating navigation skills, increase in confidence, helping deliver the best experience with your vessel. The technology features an incredible boost in capability and boating safety is the ultimate result using these advancements.
July is a busy month, plenty of boats and other watercraft crowding the lake. The significant increase in traffic volume can adversely change the surface with a wake driven wave condition. An afternoon on the water sometimes looks like a heavy, mixed sea. Normal boating operations become a challenge to stay dry, even standing clear of danger. You need to know where to go for safety and shelter.
Everything reduces down to information, especially how you like it delivered. What is the best format, the quickest way to get the knowledge you need to make decisions? Only you can answer that question. My suggestion is that anything emulating the experience of using a phone or tablet should be considered a step in the right direction in boating technology. Underway can sometimes be a constant barrage of events, all requiring some sort of decision and, or action to maneuver safely – at all times – in any condition.
Imagine rapid, incredibly accurate GPS, the very best in charting presentation, sonar delivering the details of the depths below your vessel, even in 3D view. Real time satellite weather information and graphics. Numerous entertainment options, all coming from a device strikingly similar to the technology you use every day. Another tremendous benefit, internal WiFi capability, is included. The unit can tether to your tablet and phone allowing direct control of your multifunction display, for the exception of auto pilot guidance.
Advanced marine electronics should not be complicated, each upgrade easier to use than its predecessor being replaced. GO is a giant leap in this type of highly developed navigation presentation, functionality, and definitely an asset to your boating needs. It’s a significant improvement to safe boating: Know Where to GO.
June 2016 column
A glimpse into the future
With all the rapid advances in technology, what do you think the environment of boating will look like in just a few years? Sometimes I feel my age when discussing conventional navigation and boating safety to a class or seminar. Mercator projection is now a foreign term, charting is routinely performed by high speed GPS. No longer are the depths below you a secret – in full view with 3D sonar – even cameras that can peer below. Then there are night vision optics that can see the surface in darkness and inclement weather. There are countless more developments but I don’t have room to adequately discuss in a monthly article.
With regards to the military, there is a new class of vessel that is now part of the US Navy, the USS Zumwalt DDG1000 (search Wikipedia to see a photo). As you can see it looks nothing like a normal warship. It almost features the flare of a WWI battleship or a dreadnought. What makes this vessel so unique is the 610’ stealth design paints a target about the size of a small fishing boat on the radar. It is so stealthy that it is considered a hazard to other navigation because of its invisibility by normal sensors found on commercial and pleasure type vessels.
Pleasure boats and yachts are quickly transforming as well. Glass cockpits are replacing small instrument clusters, radars without pulse generating magnetrons now use broadband for extreme accuracy. The bright, vivid, easy to understand radar presentation now shows long distances and most remarkably, extreme detail near your vessel without any radiation hazard. A safety tip on using radar: It’s not how far away you can see, it’s seeing navigation hazards close by.
GPS is immediate and precise, a location fix or position every second is considered the norm. Navigational charts not only show standard cartography, but Google Earth offers pictures of the surrounding shore and the bottom of the ocean, river, or lake, depending on the depth. Control and propulsion systems are drastically reforming into different technologies. Rudder and propellers are substituted by extremely versatile water jets providing incredible speed and agility.
What do I think boating will look like in a few years? Nothing compared to today! Even professional licensed education is morphing into ultra-modern requirements of training with advanced navigation systems such as electronic charting, high tech radar and sonar sensors, and cartography presentation in 3D satellite composite form.
Some would question why we need to know the basics, the prerequisites in USCG licensing and boating safety. The simple answer: it all comes down to the decision you make when the moment on the water arrives. Depending on only one source of navigation and collision avoidance information can lead to increased risk.
My glimpse of the future of boating: remarkable progress to the already vast array of choices of advanced electronics and systems. In the end, the basics will still be the foundation to safe boating as they are today. That basic component of boating safety will not change with time, just increase in scope and complexity.
May 2016 column
A new term in boating: wing in ground
Boating might get faster ... a lot faster. Low profile sport fishing vessels carry tremendous velocity over the water and PWCs are getting larger and quicker. They pale, however, in speed comparison to the newest form of operating on the water. Soon the private boater will be able to literally fly over the surface at speeds of 100 mph plus.
Sounds odd that boats could fly but they have for many years. Remember Howard Hughes and the “Spruce Goose?” That could be considered the founding concept for this form of water transportation also known as ground effect. It’s called WIG or Wing in Ground and it’s been used since the mid 1960s (www.wigcraft.com
The Navigation Rules of the Road classify these vessels at the very end of the hierarchy (responsibility) in right of way situations, even lower than Sea Planes. Once reserved for military operations in Littoral Naval Combat or near shore environments, these vessels now are being developed for private and commercial use in a variety of configurations.
There are three modes of operation for WIGs:
Displacement – In the water
Aerostatic – Air cushion mode similar to a hovercraft
Aerodynamic – Flying above the water like a plane.
As you can imagine, operating one of these advanced tech vessels is a complete thrill but there are big drawbacks to this capability. It’s difficult enough sometimes to accurately control your boat at bare steerageway, the slowest speed you can maneuver with rudder. Take PWCs for example: once the power is reduced it becomes almost impossible to steer because of the decrease of water movement under the craft.
Traveling at such high rates of speed can pose very unique risks if the driver is not familiar with the area in which they are operating. It is paramount that you navigate with very rapid GPS and collision avoidance sensors with extreme accuracy to prevent incidents with other vessels or objects. Depth below the keel no longer a primary consideration, it’s high speed situational awareness that is the key to success in this form of operation.
Benefits for ferry services now using WIGs in Europe include a reduction in fuel consumption and decrease of distance as the vessel actually flies over the surface, even in some cases, small areas of dry land. It’s unsure if this type of watercraft will ever make it to the lake as a recreational vehicle but if it does safety and navigation training will take on a whole new meaning and importance.
April 2016 column
Social mapping: Check out new navigation technology
GPS charting has one main fault when it comes to navigation operations. The information is outdated. Sometimes it’s just a snapshot of a paper chart. One of the constant tasks in conventional charting is updating information from various sources, namely the weekly “Notice to Mariners.” Filled with changes in a wide variety of locations relating to buoys, lights, wrecks, depths, and other aids to navigation. The use of the chart is not even considered until that very long and intensive process is completed and double checked for accuracy.
The Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) and other advanced marine technology charting systems used by military and commercial vessels receive updates periodically from “the cloud.” This is extraordinarily effective in presenting correct and current data, critical for safe navigation. Compared to manual correction it is very efficient and time saving. This capability to renew GPS charting information is mandated by International Law and USCG regulations.
There is something else in advanced marine information technology that is a profound revolution in charting and is now available to all boaters, free of charge. Military and commercial applications similar to this have been around for years and it is now here to serve the public boating domain.
It’s not the usual GPS charting layout design, but one that includes the bottom contour, extremely vivid details of the lakebed or ocean depths and what is lurking below. Insight Genesis, (www.gofreemarine.com
) is a cloud based mapping portal providing access to this service. The technology has numerous applications for the vessel operator in voyage planning, safe navigation, sport fishing, shallow water operations, anchoring, law enforcement, rescue, and security. Previous trips from other boaters with sonar data recorded and uploaded to the cloud can be yours for the viewing, enabling better decision making in voyage planning and ultimately a safer trip.
Originally designed for fishing enthusiasts and pros, this technology amply delivers the very best in real time mapping in a realm not normally viewed by navigation ... underwater. The power to vividly look beneath the surface, ahead of your vessel and directly below, even in 3D format is one of the most significant advances in the navigation sciences in a long time.
Consider checking out these new GPS, Sonar, and Insight Genesis technologies to assist your boating day and even help you plan your next trip from the comfort of your home, on your computer device. If you want to discover how this technology can considerably change the way you operate your vessel and provide you with the absolute best navigation resources, please contact me.
March 2016 column
Here"s how to use 'Set and Drift'
As simple as a triangle, knowing what each leg exactly means, is important to your total understanding of this navigational skill. It offers the ability to use the natural current and wind to place you on your journey. Other aspects of understanding and using Set and Drift can provide for safer recovery of a person out of the water.
As shown in the graphic, you will see A - B is what you are steering and the speed through the water.
If “B” is your destination then there is going to be a problem reaching your intended target given the influence of Set and Drift (B - C). In fact you will follow the track-line labeled A - C.
There is a resolution to this: one that will enable you to actually benefit from the Set and Drift. If you know you are going to be offset to the south (the right) then you should aim higher (the left). You will reach your destination, provided there are no obstructions in the way, using less fuel with decreased speed. Inverting or flipping the triangle proves this is true. There are quick, precise methods to figure out this information and effectively utilize it to your advantage.
Maneuvering to recover someone from the water is better controlled by approaching from “Up Wind” or above the person, with the wind blowing you down to them. Not only does this expedite the process, it also provides some sort of shielding from the elements such as rain and wind. It’s called “Making a Lee” in the language of boat operators ... and it works very well.
Some of the best ideas, techniques in boat handling and navigation have long been around, proven tried and true. Learn the skills from attending training seminars online and live, or hands-on instruction from someone with experience. As always I am here to serve and help guide you in the art of navigation and boating safety. Please contact me if you should want to know more.
February 2016 column
New series begins focusing on actual training methods
This month begins a series of actual training not only found on US Coast Guard Mercator charting exams, but something that you need to be aware of when operating your vessel in all locations. We would all agree that the main objective is for the boat to go the direction you are intending it to travel. That can be a tall order sometimes depending on the variety of elements that could cause it to move from that path.
Keeping in mind the three things a navigator has to do:
Know where they are going
What they will see on the way
What time they will get there.
Given the fact that a “picture is worth a thousand words” the accompanying diagram explains in simple and direct detail.
Bottom line: most of the time you will never reach your initial destination without some type of correction in course, speed, or both. It is your responsibility to know how much change to supplement and get the desired results.
It’s all part of the science of navigation and is available for you to enjoy and learn in many formats and media. If you want to discover more about your vessel, how to identify hazards, improve collision avoidance then please contact me for more information.
Next month the training series will explain more in detail how to acquire this skill set and utilize basic methods to not only recognize Set and Drift, but use it to your advantage.
January 2016 column
Safe boating involves your 'Point of View'
A point of view. Everybody has one or more of these, especially when it comes to boating. Welcome to the 2016 Atlanta Boat Show! Always fascinating, looking at the latest in technology, styles of vessels, and other components of the boating life. Plenty to select from and a wide variety of options as well, for all types of enthusiasts and professionals.
When choosing a watercraft, regardless of size, model, and make, there should be some considerable thought about navigation, handling characteristics, and other important aspects of safe operation. There are a lot of factors to think about depending on the area you intend to travel. Some operators perceive that local boating is less difficult than offshore, but each version has its own set of dynamics and that in fact is a – Point of View.
Boating safety training, in general, incorporates all those common information needs and skills to produce a well rounded, effective learning experience for everyone that takes to the water. The lake is big, the shore is lined with endless rows of trees and houses dotting the redundant landscape. It’s an easy place to get lost if you don’t have the necessary gear to guide you such as GPS charting or even a simple magnetic compass.
Water conditions can get rough at times, this region is no stranger to severe storms, and let’s not forget the most important of all – changing depth of the water. All these various conditions present the necessity to either understand, avoid, or respond when the need arises. The quickest and most accurate methods are through advanced technology such as sonar, satellite, and understanding the basic techniques taught in the US Coast Guard license courses and safety seminars.
Years of experience in the advanced navigation and communications technology spectrum taught me one very enduring lesson: know your systems well and practice using them. The rewards will be greater confidence and a safer voyage for everyone. Please give some consideration and thought as to where you intend to travel the next time you’re on the water. It doesn’t have to be a big fancy or complicated voyage plan, just some type of organization that would serve to benefit all facets of your excursion.
Whatever your preference in boating – small, large, quick, or powerful – it is your point of view that matters most. I suggest you take into account all features, especially how you will ultimately control the vessel, and where to find the specific knowledge to do so.
Every manufacturer has websites filled with tutorials, and other types of training media on everything they produce. Frequent review of the information can be helpful in preparing for your journey and proficiency. Another great advantage, local to the area, are training pros that can personally demonstrate everything you need to go with assurance. Nothing replaces actual hands on experience in long term learning. If you need more details on where to find these experts please contact me.
I’ll be attending the 2016 Atlanta Boat Show at the USCG license training school booth. Stop by if you get the chance. I look forward to the opportunity of meeting you in person, to get your “Point of View.”
December 2015 column
Make sure to take a second look ...
How many times have you taken that second look and seen something different from the first glance? Collision avoidance is sometimes like that too. Never take just a quick scan, but look multiple times to ensure what you are seeing is the correct information and developing situation. Advanced marine electronics such as GPS, Chart Plotters, radar, and other technologies do that for us on boats, very quickly and precisely. The question is ... do you totally, without a shadow of doubt, trust the information to be accurate so you can with confidence make your final decision on action?
Over reliance on technology grows with time and is becoming more ingrained in the boating lifestyle, with past conventional methods sometimes all but forgotten. There is little doubt that if you are a boater long enough that you will encounter some kind of distress, maybe something as minor as a loss of power, or other mechanical failure as examples.
Here’s a personal experience while serving onboard a giant, 800 ft plus oil tanker laden with black crude, proceeding up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico to a refinery in Baton Rouge: Dense fog rapidly setting in, visibility dropping to less than a quarter mile or below. River is crowded with merchant ships and smaller oil platform service vessels lined up the sides, safely anchored waiting for the fog to subside. Our orders, regardless of the weather conditions, are to continue to the oil dock if it can be safely navigated, the final decision resting with the Captain.
Winding past New Orleans, we make the tight turn at Algiers Point near the center of the city. It’s probably the most difficult change of course on the entire trip with all the river traffic. And it is extremely difficult to perform in limited visibility, contrasting with the lumen of the bright city lights. The best way to safely navigate in times like these is to proceed very slow, but most importantly, with positive control. Slowing your vessel to less than bare steerageway gives up rudder influence unless you can steer with your engines, and in this case that was only one big one with little effect.
The velocity of the out flowing current to the south was a great benefit assisting control of the vessel as the increased water pressure surged over the rudder surface.The very same reason the Navigation Rules assigns this type of situation is the obligation to maneuver if directed or necessary to avoid collision.
The second basic method to safely navigate in fog is to get up front and down low as possible. On this size vessel the bulwark, a massive structure located at the very end of the large tanker to break up the heavy seas as they strike the bow, is the place to be. Pitch blackness of night, the swirl of white wispy fog races by, driven by the wind and movement up the river.
Sound takes on a very different path in conditions like this. It will bounce, reflecting off objects, creating reverb on occasion, making it nearly impossible to discern how far away an object is and its direction of movement. Your sense of hearing enhances and absolutely everything, natural and man-made becomes more vivid. Faint bells marking anchored ships and aids to navigation, the deep sound of a gong identifying the stern of a vessel greater than 100 meters nearby, the noise and static of a radio from a vessel close aboard. For countless hours you focus and concentrate.
Bad things can happen to anyone who travels on the water. Learn from other’s experience to help increase your confidence and assessment of safety risks. Knowledge is the answer, and by the way, don’t forget ... Take a Second Look.
November 2015 column
Traveling the Straits of Florida to the 'hidden' country
The beautiful island of Cuba is on the distant horizon, invisible from view, but is a mere 90 miles from the closest land in the USA, the “Southern Most Point” of Key West. As you visually scan over the sea from that location it appears it would not be much effort to cross over. Looks can be deceiving in this case as the route you must take will pass through one of the most unique and challenging bodies of water you will ever encounter.
A “River in the Sea” as it is sometimes referred to, the Gulf Stream, is a powerful current that rapidly flows Northeast through the Straits of Florida. At times it can be a beautifully calm and serene place. Other times it is just this side of a full blown, “peril at sea” disaster. Especially when tropical storms and hurricanes, are transiting or forming near its warm core.
There are even occasions when a clear blue sky appears extremely odd and contrast against a raging short swell, high, steep waves generated by winds coming from the northeast opposing the flow of the current. Depending on your departure point this can make a huge difference while underway and a more comfortable, safer ride as you plow through the waves when the seas are rough.
Suddenly 90 miles becomes a much longer excursion than originally conceived and planned. Not that the weather can be the only factor, add the sometimes heavy traffic of all types of vessels as they transit through the Straits bound for their destination. You will almost certainly be faced with the need to interact with other vessels moving in all directions, speeds, and sizes. This is when knowledge of the navigation rules really pays off! This new port of call destination is going to be an interesting time for the Florida Straits when boaters from the USA begin the journey south from nearby places on the Gulf and Southeast Coast.
Make sure you are ready. Have the proper communication, charting capability, life jackets, and most of all, the complete ability to react in times of emergency and danger. The island is close in distance, yet the path there is full of adventure and challenge as you cross the Straits of Florida.
Those of you that have USCG licenses and are considering going to Cuba with a small vessel should consider upgrading to Master, the next level from Operator Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) and also include the STCW License called Basic Safety if you plan to carry passengers for hire. There will soon be a rush of license applications for those mariners that want to professionally serve as Master or just improve their total safety knowledge in this realm for their private craft.
Please contact me if you want to discover the many different ways you can prepare for the Straits of Florida. What waits on the other side is well worth the effort ... an island hidden in full view for the past 50 years.
The basis for this month’s entry of Lessons Learned is achieving the ability to voyage plan and practice for the challenges that are ahead when underway through a wide variety of educational and certification sources. No matter where you journey, this knowledge will vastly improve your experience and security.
October 2015 column
So what's the difference between 'Beware vs. Be Aware?'
The headline’s phrase contains similar sounding words if you say them fast enough with one extra letter and the space in between. They are somewhat related in definition but that is far from reality when it comes to boating safety. Each and every operator of a watercraft, crew member, and even passengers need to recognize the difference these two mind-sets present and how to successfully engage them before problems arise.
– To be careful, take heed, and watch out are all part of the total equation of safety but “Be Aware
” takes the lead in every sense of the word and meaning. That’s what boating safety is all about: to discern problems and take corrective steps to prevent “bad things” from happening in the first place.
As discussed many times before, proper education develops a keen understanding of what the outcome will be if certain actions are taken, both positive and negative. It all stems from risk assessment and in order to do that properly you should be aware of all the possible scenarios. Another reason why Error Trapping and Lessons Learned is so important to your great, incident free day on the water.
To say history repeats itself is a vast understatement when it comes to safely navigating a watercraft. Many times boat operators get caught up in the moment and do not realize or keep the full picture of what is happening around the vessel. Situational Awareness is a valuable skill set that comes only with experience and cannot be taught in any classroom. Everything comes down to one moment in time when the decision to take a specific action makes the final difference.
There is even a Decision Making training syllabus you can now take called Officer in Charge of a Navigation Watch (OICNW) which provides many scenarios for the mariner to make complex navigation decisions on information they are presented, both electronically and visually. Students are immersed in a simulation environment with difficult situations in vivid HD, each measured for their response and outcome. Better to perform that type of assessment in a controlled environment without damage to crew, vessel, and environment but more importantly it provides an emotional example for someone to forever learn and prosper from that very surreal event. That’s awareness and wisdom in its purest form ... passing on the actual experience is of great significance to everyone that comprehends.
If you knew in advance the results of your actions when operating a vessel, would you not make them more carefully and with greater precision? That’s also what awareness is and it is best advanced by training in any format that makes sense and increases your total understanding. Part of that recipe for success on the water is continual learning and then forward that knowledge through your interaction with others.
You are the key to boating safety success, not the classes, instructors, the marketing brochures and websites. The off season for the lake is rapidly approaching. Might be a great time to learn more and hone your boating skills. Next season is right around the corner.
Would you rather “Beware or Be Aware?” I can help. Contact me to find out more.
September 2015 column
Can you answer the question: How far away?
Judging distance. It’s something all of us do when we are in motion regardless of the mode – walking, driving, boating. It sounds like an easy thing to perform accurately but the reality is much different, especially in the boating world. Determining the “safe” distance from a nearby vessel depends on a number of factors such as electronic navigation devices and your ability to discern distance via depth perception. There are plenty of resources for learning this information: operation guides, online media, instructional classes, and hands on experience to name a few.
The best course of action is to understand and correctly interpret navigation’s Rules of the Road. You can avoid accidents by applying the basic principles found in these well written set of instructions. Of all the courses in the boating education curriculum this is one of the most important for safety.
Answering the question can take a different turn if visibility is reduced and during periods of darkness. Things look different. It can be in grayscale with bright flashing lights, some of them steady, in various colors marking objects on the water and structures ashore. It’s called “night vision,” and it’s when you begin to see more clearly. It is best observed in remote areas such as out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, when without a cloud in the sky, the Milky Way illuminating the night with millions of stars. Planets and a possible new moon doesn’t clutter the heavens with background light. The visibility on the surface of the water is so acute you can spot things floating at far distances without the aid of binoculars. As an example: one of the reasons coming into Miami can be difficult at night is all the background lights, the incredibly bright and vivid color pallet of neon. To a ship pilot entering port it is confusion and can greatly detract from the visibility of the lighted aids to navigation and other markers.
Without challenge, operating in fog can be the most hazardous and difficult to deal with. Some maritime academies are now teaching sound navigation – distance off utilizing mathematics, measuring sound as it travels in time. The navigation rules have very descriptive chapters and directives on sound signals, illustrating examples of the echo growing stronger or decreasing, otherwise known as Doppler. Couple advanced electronic technologies of GPS charting, radar, sonar, infrared, and other sensors, you can accurately assess if you are standing into danger or piloting safely during times like these.
We have covered a few different types of situations you could come across that would cause to ask the question: How far away? There are many, many more in various combinations. Give consideration to these scenarios, practice using your navigation and piloting resources, take a class, and learn to answer the question no matter what the condition. It will serve everyone’s boating safety needs in such a positive way!
August 2015 column
What not to do at buoy #19
Chesapeake Bay is a very remarkable place in the maritime realm. It contains a vast combination of military ships, all shapes and sizes, commercial vessels carrying endless tons of cargo, private boaters by the hundreds, including the ever popular small paddle craft vessels and boards. Calling the bay a busy place would be a huge understatement.
A lot of preparation goes into leaving Norfolk, VA – a concise voyage plan, adequate supplies, fuel, officers and crew, all accounted for and ready for mission. Summer months off the mid Atlantic Coast are beautiful, except when storms travel up from the tropics creating some of the largest waves found in any ocean. Cape Hatteras, where the Gulf Stream turns right and races out to the deeper, colder sea, is the place and our destination.
This harbor is considered by many professional mariners a very complicated port environment to safely navigate, and is frequently utilized as the departure point on Full Navigation Bridge Simulators for mariner and pilot assessments. The following is a brief portion of a training scenario that is actually presented and how this experience can have a positive impact to your boating life.
Berth, port side of the ship, a USCG 378’ High Endurance Cutter, simulation time is 0300 in the morning, proceeding to sea on a routine patrol then proceed northward to New York. Safely off the dock, engines back full to clear the end of the pier, then pivot fair in the channel outbound. Bright morning stars illuminating the clear sky, the moon in half phase adds to visibility. Our position now mid channel, proceeding to sea, a very large silhouette marked by a set of bright white colored range lights, including a red side light was visible on the starboard side off in the distance. It marks an extremely large container ship, almost five times the size of my vessel, inbound to the turn at the infamous Thimble Shoals; well marked on the piloting charts and by visual aids to navigation, especially lights. My speed increasing, the radar calculation of the path of the inbound ship placed us both arriving the same time at the dangerous turn next to the shoal marked by Buoy #19.
Navigation Rules of the Road direct each vessel to proceed on the right side of the channel. Exactly how far to the right is the real question that now needs an immediate answer. Passing someone in a turn at high speed is never a good idea especially in a narrow channel. For example: as large vessels close proximity, water pressure from the bow pushes away while the inverse is quickly happening as the propellers suck the water violently passed the stern, and pulling each other into a collision. It’s referred to as Bow Wave and Stern Suction and can have a direct influence how you control your vessel regardless of size. It does not behave like a normal wake and can cause immediate hazard if not recognized and handled properly.
Normally students make the turn safely but some do not, especially those that did not factor the water hydraulic effects when two vessels pass too closely at Buoy #19. The collision playback and evaluation for Error Trapping provide lessons learned through simulation replay. The