Today's lake level: 1071.13
Your complete online news, information, and recreation guide to Lake Lanier
Dec. 12, 2018
9:51 am


Steve Johnson's Boating Safety

So exactly what is distracted boating?

Distracted driving – It’s not a breaking-news topic for drivers on the road, especially with the motor vehicle laws now in place. We all know from the media or even personal experience what results from this type of driving – like texting, a classic example of loss of situational awareness. This form of risk also applies to other modes of transportation, in particular: boating. The Navigation Rules of the Road are primarily designed for one purpose and that is, collision avoidance. Sitting in the helm chair has a lot of responsibility attached to it. Other passengers on your boat are counting on you to get them to the destination safely, without incident, to enjoy their trip. That specific objective cannot be accomplished if you are distracted when operating a vessel, especially at high speeds in congested or rough waters. Sounds just like a precise description of the lake during the busy season, a prime time when the weather is perfect and the crowds are large. 
That’s not the only distraction of course when operating on the water. The whole perception of risk assessment, the very same thing you do when driving your vehicle, changes slightly in this aquamarine environment. Now the “roadways” are not restricted to route, speed is seldom controlled by signage and law, except in no-wake areas. What was once directed in paved traffic patterns now becomes an arena of paths and situations. This difference of how to accurately perform risk assessment is where collision avoidance on the water is found. 
The secret to absorbing all this extra information is learning the fine art of situational awareness, which always precedes collision avoidance. Knowing how to recognize situations, before they happen is the key to safe boating. 
Full awareness of your overall surroundings without distraction may sound simple, in reality it is far from it. The only way to develop this much needed mind-set is practice. You can study every book on the subject, take every examination that exists, and it still would not prepare you for what comes next, mainly because the learning approach lacks action. The absolute best way to gain that crucial experience is either witness by demonstration or do it yourself, with simulation or real-time. Operating your vessel safely and having a proper lookout at all times are fundamentally required. The greatest value of effective boating safety education is the long term positive influence in your actions, especially gauging results before making decisions in handling or navigation. Sometimes the real beginning of the instruction process, the proficiency of boating operations, is the study of previous incidents, observing all types of scenarios. Application of that same knowledge with realistic clear and understandable training is the best way to eliminate or reduce distractions. 
On the water there is always the chance for conditions to rapidly change, priorities can alter, but always the primary focus of the boat operator is safely moving the vessel through any situation, at the proper speed, and completely aware of their surroundings without any distraction.
Expect the unexpected … and nothing becomes a surprise.

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

November 2018 column

The Johnson Curve

Each and every time you set out on the water there is the chance of something undesirable happening. Safe boating is a duty achieved by experience and proper application of training. There are basically three levels of risk when it comes to vessel operation, regardless of location and type of boat. This premise also incorporates the use of advanced marine electronics versus more of a visual method of directing the vessel. It’s a comparison that needs to be understood by anyone in charge of navigation.
The first is the GREEN sector to the left of the gauge, the beginning of the curve. Calm weather and smooth water, all systems functioning as designed, voyage plan being followed, the driver at the helm is capable and properly trained. The main method of piloting is visual reference, also utilizing GPS charting on a multi-function display, practicing with other sensors if equipped to learn how they operate. Situational awareness is at high levels. 
Second in line on the curve is the AMBER sector, positioned in the middle. It signifies the norm when it comes to boating. Seldom is the water surface completely smooth, with weather causing some disruption, and increasing traffic requiring more alert operation. This is where some boaters get complacent and unwanted events can follow. Recognizing the colored zone you are in on the curve is half the battle and will alert you to be increasingly aware of your surroundings and act accordingly.

The use of advanced electronics is more pronounced. Decisions for safe navigation and collision avoidance are weighed more using this technology. However there are at times problems with lack of training or familiarity with the advanced sensors resulting in misinterpretation of the data. Situational awareness is at moderate levels.
The last segment of the curve is ORANGE in color. Conditions for safe boating are greatly reduced due to restricted visibility, mechanical failure, injury, grounding, boats in close proximity, and other operational issues. This is where USCG license and Safe Boating training comes in handy. There should always be other methods of navigation in order to verify information and execute proper decisions to safely move on the water. Advanced navigation, communication electronics are used and relied upon almost exclusively, especially radar if available. First action should be to slow down, don life-jackets, and stop if necessary to further assess your situation. Understanding the Rules of the Road is key to reducing risk in this environment. Situational awareness is extremely difficult and at the lowest level.
To successfully operate in the last part of the curve will require concise attention to detail without distractions. Crew, even passengers, should assist where able or assigned. Always remember to plan and get ready for the possibility you will encounter this scenario. Preparation instead of reaction is always the best way to counteract and avoid these situations. If you want to know more, contact me to discover how to expertly prepare for ... The Johnson Curve.

October 2018 column

Mae West and the Goldfish Club

The year 2018 proved to be a devastating period of time for boating accidents throughout the country. The tragic events all caused by different factors, most connected by one common thread: not wearing a life jacket. Personal Flotation Devices, also known as PFDs, are the invention of genius. Evidence of their existence and use dates back many years to improvised apparatus, some made from hollow dried animal skins tied together to trap air inside used by Norwegian seafarers. The first flotation device sold at retail in the 1800s was constructed of cork providing even more buoyancy. Fast forward a few hundred years and there have been vast improvements in the technology ranging from thermal protective immersion suits to upside down looking versions of life jackets called U-Float. 
Mae West was a nickname that was bestowed to the lifesaving cover, referring to the Hollywood actress of movies and stage during WWII, by both sailors and aviators alike. The famous Goldfish Club were distinguished survivors, almost 9,000 members of aviation crashes and wrecks at sea that were saved because they wore a lifejacket, aka Mae West. Their central theme and core: “Money, position or power cannot gain a man or woman entry to the exclusive circles of the Goldfish Club. To become a member one has to float about upon the sea for a considerable period with nothing but a Carley Rubber Float between one and a watery death.”
The Burra Record 1945
International and USCG regulations specifically direct the use of Type 1 classification for a PFD that can actually right your face out of the water if you are knocked unconscious, helping prevent drowning. Professional mariners working on a vessel in open ocean or near coastal waters have to comply with the requirement. Qualification for certification also mandates attending a training facility to learn the proper use and for assessment by an approved USCG instructor in a pool environment. This one capability of turning you over through innovative design in this hazardous condition is probably the most profound when it comes to life saving scenarios. Other models: Type 2 through 5 are approved depending on their intended use, geographical location, and protection they afford the person wearing them. 
That brings this article full circle back to the opening paragraph concerning wearing a life jacket. There are boaters that forget, others that feel uncomfortable wearing it, and some that just refuse. Can you really forecast with complete certainty what lies ahead of you, regardless of experience level? Collision with another vessel, person in the water, even grounding await those who embrace this type of risk without consideration of the threats. 
When things are not going right, or as planned, visibility is diminishing, the water is rougher, weather getting worse, nearby traffic increasing, then put it on please! Something as simple as wearing a lifejacket is a real big deal when it comes to boating safety. Look back in history and see for yourself in the … Goldfish Club.
September 2018 column

What's behind the door? Security

The security of a ship or boat at sea is vital to safety of the crew, passengers, cargo, and environment. Required initial training for commercial mariners is attending a class for Vessel Security Awareness. 
The syllabus is offered in two versions, with or without duties. Not meant to be a cover-all for this level of risk, it does however serve as a great introduction, making crewmembers aware of the need to perform the basics in this mainly collateral task. Although this subject may not have a direct influence or factor in to your experience on the lake, this type of preparation for security is applicable for everyone who ventures offshore. 
One situation you can encounter even in this modern age of boating is piracy. This threat is ongoing, not just overseas off the coast of Africa or Asia, but can happen anywhere, and in reality it does. The training text and actual photo evidence in the course describes what to look for as in suspicious behaviors or actions and then reporting those observations to the authorities. There are also dedicated officers that perform this function on the vessel, the company, at the port, and with other agencies. 
Different types of weapons used by pirates and terrorists are discussed in class, including WMDs as it pertains to the Maritime World. A large ship carrying millions of gallons of highly explosive fuel, chemicals, or natural gas is just an example of something that has to be protected. The fundamental premise of the training is: “See Something, Say Something.” Essential information is professionally conveyed to the student but there are a few items that warrant further consideration and know-how that are not covered in the short one-day class. Once the crewmember reports onboard the ship, more related training, specific to the vessel layout, cargo, and voyage route is provided through more extensive personnel drills and exercises. Safety precautions and techniques are taught in an actual environment, a process which proves to be extremely helpful in honing the skills required. 
Some of the counter-terrorism practices utilized by companies when a crew is under attack by pirates is to shelter in a safe place onboard the vessel. A compartment or room that is tightly secured through a single main door. There is one very significant detail to highlight about this type of action and that is; the door is locked … from the OUTSIDE!
Given the environment of going to sea, watertight doors on ships should be lock controlled from the outside to enable quick access for damage control, and something very important called, space accountability. 
That actually means that someone else has to unlock the door to allow for a safe exit. Some might consider this setting a good feature of being safeguarded from harm in this bunker like room made of strong steel plates welded together. It does however present a major problem which is: you will NOT be able to get out without assistance. Obviously, there are many reasons this could be hazardous such as, fire, flooding, and ship abandonment. 
Acknowledging there is always risk involved on the water, there is a truly remarkable method using a small device that can keep you safely inside, yet exit on demand from behind a locked door. Invented by a professional Chief Engineering Officer, still serving in the maritime industry, it is a simple, cost effective design, easy to install and operate, called Safe Escape Lock. (

Already in production the device is approved by many agencies including American Bureau of Shipping, International Maritime Organization, and the USCG. The safety lock is a real game changer when it comes to security and compliance with maritime counter piracy regulations. In the majority of scenarios, the most effective approach to a problem is the simpler solution. Innovation helps counter this type of menace at sea and performs an important mission keeping seafarers safe … Behind the Door.

August 2018 column

It's all about 'actions' while boating

“Actions determine outcomes ... and outcomes inform actions,” completes the quote, taken from the Number 1 Best Seller, “The One Thing,” by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. This premise is described with precise detail in Rule 8, Actions to Avoid Collision, in the Navigation Rules of the Road: 
(a) Any action taken to avoid collision shall be taken in accordance with the Rules of this Part and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.
(b) Any alteration of course and/or speed to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be large enough to be readily apparent to another vessel observing visually or by radar; a succession of small alterations of course and/or speed should be avoided.
(c) If there is sufficient sea-room, alteration of course alone may be the most effective action to avoid a close-quarters situation provided that it is made in good time, is substantial and does not result in another close-quarters situation.
(d) Action taken to avoid a collision with another vessel shall be such as to result in passing at a safe distance. The effectiveness of the action shall be carefully checked until the other vessel is finally past and clear.
(e) 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.
(f) (i) A vessel which, by any of these Rules, is required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel shall, when required by the circumstances of the case, take early action to allow sufficient sea-room for the safe passage of the other vessel.
(ii) A vessel required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel is not relieved of this obligation if approaching the other vessel so as to involve risk of collision and shall, when taking action, have full regard to the action which may be required by the Rules of this Part.
(iii) A vessel, the passage of which is not to be impeded remains fully obliged to comply with the Rules of this part when the two vessels are approaching one another so as to involve risk of collision.
There are ways you can maneuver to avoid a collision with another boat;
  • Turning Right – Except when necessary to pass someone in an Overtaking Situation by going Left and passing up their Port side. This substantial turn also provides the visual reference to the other vessel that you are taking the appropriate action in accordance to the Rules of the Road.
  • Slowing Down – Does give the intended result of missing the other vessel but drastically reduces the relative speed and extends the time to process avoidance. A primary point of professional boating is to slow down to bare steerageway or stop if necessary to further assess the situation. In other words … When in doubt, slow down.
  • Combination of Speed Reduction and Turn – Considered by professional Navy and Coast Guard Deck Officers as “Backing Out” and frequently utilized in tight formations with multiple ships in close proximity. Not a preferred method to apply unless you are in congested traffic and a large turn would cause an issue with another vessel in close proximity.
An important component of Boating Safety is taking Action to get the desired Outcome; Rule 8 is the remedy to that goal. Be Informed and have a great time on the water!

July 2018 column

Can you hear me now?

The title of this article sounds kind of familiar doesn't it? Now imagine a massive wall of decreasing visibility approaching your vessel and its soon to immerse totally, producing a high risk navigation environment. If you venture out on the water long enough, for whatever reason, you will someday encounter this scenario.
It can bring back some very anxious memories of the event and provide some lessons-learned. It comes in a wide variety of form: fog, rain, snow, smoke – day or night it can appear. With proper preparation and training this hazardous encounter doesn’t have to be the end of your voyage, but it does require you to engage other senses to in order to navigate safely through the situation. The proficient use of advanced electronics such as radar, GPS, and infrared optics like FLIR, can be of great value if operated effectively and the information received is interpreted correctly. There is very little room for error. Everything is at stake, with decisions to be made by you, the person in charge of safely piloting the watercraft.
Something else happens almost immediately as the ability to see begins to diminish. The sensory input of hearing now takes an even more profound importance to your journey. By listening carefully, you can sometimes discern whether the object is close by, approaching, crossing, and even moving away from your position. This ability does take practice. A method to practice engaging your hearing sense is to safely stop or anchor, wear a blindfold or something to reduce your vision, and absorb the sounds surrounding you. Development of recognizing Doppler is the primary benefit of this exercise.
If you experience this unwanted situation of reduced visibility, slow down, affix your navigational position on the GPS chart with waypoint, reduce your vessel noise level, and intently pay attention. You’ll be amazed at how keen your sense of hearing becomes in times like these. 
This component of collision avoidance deserves to be at the top of the list for Risk of Collision, Rule 7, in the U.S. Coast Guard Rules of the Road and is specifically addressed in the regulations. 
In essence, seeing is now effectively augmented by hearing. Knowing what resides on the other side of low visibility is “Boating Safety” at its finest and greatly benefits everyone.

June 2018 column

What is Safe Speed, Rule 6?

This article begins a series on the navigation rules for operating on the water, regardless of location and the type of vessel you command. The primary objective is to provide easy to understand information to recognize hazards and avoid collision with another watercraft or other maritime hazards, such as grounding. Rule 6 is the foundation, the beginning point, where everything connects to this specific issue, also known as Collision Avoidance. 
The Navigation Rules of the Road are considered by most mariners, one of the hardest things to learn. At first glance, it does look like an extreme amount of information to digest. It’s a matter of perspective, how you look at the 38 International and 11 Inland Differences specifically created for  safety on the water. Observing the mathematical equation; Distance = Speed x Time, it is apparent that reducing your speed has a profound and mostly positive effect on other factors in the formula.

The following is taken directly from the regulations:
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 expertly constructed passage and law basically says it all, covering every point of view. It is however intentionally not referring the most important component in this entire directive … You! 
As an operator, knowledge and proper application of Safe Speed Rule 6 is a crucial component to overall safety and enjoyment on the water. The not so simple answer is to know when to reduce speed. 
This meaningful rule is the beginning of an understanding that helps achieve greater overall results while on the water. Something to consider about Safe Speed is to slow down the moment there is a doubt as to your exact position and situation.

May 2018 column

Batteries not included

Batteries are the essential energy supply for a wide range of devices. In recent years there have been some tremendous advances in this realm of technology development. As the title of this article suggests; without batteries there is nothing. Whatever the appliance or display apparatus, it is reliant on this form of power. Without it the device is essentially useless: just a shell of a mechanism waiting to perform its intended purpose.   
Now relate and compare how maritime education and training is fundamentally of the same importance as batteries. It is the essential knowledge needed in order to effectively operate a vessel or system. You can possess the most sophisticated of gadgets on the market, all the “bells and whistles,” but it is actually nothing but an inoperable piece of expensive equipment, delivering diminished value to your navigation responsibilities or general safety. That is, if you are not familiar with proper operation and functionality. Coupled with that matter, and just as important, there is the need to understand the basics, both in emergency preparedness and standard operating procedures.
Here’s a seldom discussed element of advanced electronics: is the operator utilizing the full capability of the display? From past and current experience with these multi faceted, complex operating systems, in all types of marine environments, military, commercial, and recreational, the answer to that question is a resounding NO! 
Sometimes there is no need for applying all the functions depending on your planned use. In some actual documented cases, as in the task of radar and GPS charting, misinterpretation of the information provided by the Multi-Function Display, also known as MFDs in the maritime marketplace, can actually be the cause of an unwanted incident. Good, sound, useful training most always results in increased awareness of the technology capabilities along with the numerous courses of action for operating your watercraft safely. 
This extremely important learning objective delivers much added value and greatly enhances the many options that can be selected with the MFDs and attached sensors like sonar, radar, weather satellite, radio, and GPS. You can discover and learn from how-to videos on the manufacturer’s website or even on YouTube giving you not only the step by step processes, but it also greatly increases the confidence of the user. Always a helpful combination for the best results of your on the water total experience.
As you can see, there are many ways to achieve the goal of learning these new, rapidly improving, sometimes complicated, models of display and tethered sensors. Contact me if you want to find out how to locate these sources of knowledge and utilize them to your advantage successfully.
Boating education is extremely diverse with all the innovations out there in the nautical world. Please remember that your vessel always comes with … batteries not included.

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