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Jun. 22, 2018
8:29 pm


Steve Johnson's Boating Safety

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.

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

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.

April 2018 column

Second in command is vital position

The duties involved as “second in command” is seldom thought of but vitally important. 
With exception of commercial and military vessels, this post does not get the same spotlight as the person in command, sometimes referred to as the captain. What happens if that very same officer in charge becomes unable to fulfill their duties? How many of you that really enjoy boating, plan for contingencies such as this? The answer  is as simple as adding one more qualified and competent operator. There should be someone else onboard that has the knowledge and capability to react. This is most widely known as the First Officer on certain types of ships.
The initial step to accomplish that goal in the world of pleasure boating is primarily basic safety training. Get familiar with the fundamentals, then progress to the more complex parts of the learning process. Each manufacturer and class of boat has an operating manual when it comes to understanding and directing all the systems correctly. 
There are countless things to comprehend: engineering, helm, navigation, electronics, emergency equipment and communications. The list can get long depending on your specific model and type. One method to immediately improve your overall boating experience is for everyone, including passengers, to know what to do in case of emergency. Take the time to brief each and everyone onboard the general voyage plan, rules to follow while underway, the location where stowed, and how to wear a lifejacket. As stated by the U.S. Coast Guard statistics in all boating safety and license courses, the major cause of fatalities in boating is due to drowning. Take classes in person, even online, to gather this much needed information.
There are five core skills to develop second in command:
• Know how to use the radio or other communications systems on your vessel
• Understand and comply with the Navigation Rules of the Road 
• Develop a feel for the way the boat handles in various conditions and maneuvers
• Effective operation of boating safety equipment  
• Voyage planning and basic navigation.
Creating the enhanced safety program for your vessel is possible especially with having an additional pilot, just in case. Addressing this primary need has long term value to all aspects of your underway experience. The majority of boating safety awareness is preparation with the concept of an additional driver being one of the best and most impactful factors in that task. 
Please remember the water environment of which you are traveling is filled with hazards. And they must be recognized and avoided in a timely manner. Through continual practice, the incidence of risk is significantly reduced. Enjoy your voyage even more with having someone on your boat that is second in command.

March 2018 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 fairly 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. It’s very noisy and action packed experience for both spectator and driver. It’s called the Demolition Derby.
Does this description sound somewhat familiar on the water during peak times? After just a few hours the surface becomes much rougher with wake and wave. Vessel traffic increases, feels like almost exponentially, 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 boating safety especially. It is as simple as information! 
As there are numerous methods and organizations you can obtain various levels of boating 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 the Power Squadron have some of the best training syllabus and instructors around. For those of you who desire to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard license, please contact me to discover more about that process. Learning as a group, coupled with the convenience of online media, if desired, provides the ultimate understanding needed to function in challenging conditions. Please know that safe operation of your vessel is a requirement, not an option.

Actual on the water experience is always the best teacher with the classroom environment or online primarily serving as introduction to the many necessary skills of vessel control and navigation. Liken this to driving a vehicle on the roadways. Knowledge, with the correct application of the operating laws, is necessary for everyone’s safety. You can see the negative results on the news. Boating is no different than driving a vehicle. The main objective is to travel to your intended destination without hitting something or someone.  
Learning is definitely a continuous journey of discovery by previous example and experience. Why not find out how to expand your boating knowledge and reap the numerous benefits by avoiding … the Demolition Derby.

February 2018 column

How color can improve safety while cruising

Imagine ... in dense fog, with visual eyesight not being an option, and nearby sounds becoming distorted, almost reverb echo in a vibration sense. A foreign atmosphere, dense with condensation of close-to-the-ground cloud you are immersed in. Off in the distance you hear a faint but increasing din of a vessel’s horn. Exact bearing in relation to your position is but a guess at best. What way is it heading? How fast is it going? Is there movement toward my location? 
The only technology reliable for this scenario is radar. Not just any detection sensor will do in a case such as this, but one that instantly provides you with an urgent piece of information you need for collision avoidance and assessment of risk. That can be found with SIMRAD’s Halo Radar with Velocity Track technology. 
Through pulse compression, Doppler, the system detects targets and displays the data on the Multi-Function Device into three main categories;  Dead in the Water (including land mass and obstructions),  Diverging, and Converging, the latter of which is obviously the most dangerous. Closest Point of Approach and Time of CPA not calculated, and actually is not critical at this initial point in time. Just one very concise and quick piece of important information can make all the difference in the world to safe navigation.  
The new technology advance answers the one main question that absolutely means the most: Is this object observed on the radar dangerous and does it pose a risk of collision? It calculates this very unique query, within a fraction of time, using color. 
Yep, the simplest solution to a problem is usually the best. Color contrast and classification immediately delivers accurate situational awareness in a short period of time. Know what and where your danger areas reside and you are well on your way to a collision free voyage and piece of mind.
How's that for Tactical to Practical. Even better, it is but a software download with the correct configuration. This one seemingly small, but extremely significant, change in radar makes it the prime sensor for use in situational awareness. Marine Navigation should always rely on more than one sensory input and technique as Bowditch, The American Practical Navigator, Chapter 25 precisely states. Part of that combination should include The Color of Radar.

January 2018 column

Back to the future ... in boating

Technology advancing so fast it becomes almost a blur. Nothing terribly wrong with this increasing frequency of evolution, except one seemingly small, but extremely significant point: remembering how to use alternate methods of operating your vessel.
The most precise and quickest form of marine navigation is GPS. Within seconds an accurate position can be read, safe water assured, sometimes even seeing the bottom in vivid 3D. Connection to satellites allows for real time weather observation, music and entertainment at your fingertips. But what happens when the power goes out or some other electronic causality occurs? 
Is there the possibility that your GPS is not providing precise positional information? Actually that last question is not far off the mark. During my professional interaction with mariners – all types, commercial, military, and personal – they all have a common theme in their stories. Sometimes the information is not correct. Distance off the actual position varies from as little as a few feet to over 20 yards. That can lead to a wide variety of marine incidents.
The remedy for this type of occurrence is found in one of the most profound reference books for mariners: American Practical Navigator, Bowditch, Chapter 25. Only 11 pages comprise this Chapter. However it presents a small, but extremely concise set of instructions for the person in charge of a navigational watch. Given operating a small pleasure craft on the lake is vastly different than ocean and coastal environments, the obligation to reasonably know your position at all times is the same. 
High profile maritime accidents in 2017 have dramatically shown that advanced technology does not guarantee safety and collision avoidance. The only way to ensure your security, and that of others on the water is to learn different methods of navigation along with  other auxiliary operations on your vessel. During the Atlanta Boat Show you will see some organizations such as; U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Power Squadron, Sea School, and other training institutions that provide this much needed educational service. 
Please stop by the booths and discover the advantages of professional maritime training can be to your overall experience on the water. 
To accomplish this objective consider investing your passion for the water in boating educational courses. This approach provides not only an alternate method to operate your vessel, it adds volumes of understanding to the function and proper use of advanced systems. The final result is increased confidence, situational awareness, improved performance, and especially boating safety.                                           
Looking forward to another great year at the lake and seeing you at the 2018 Atlanta Boat Show!

December 2017 column

The 'Live Jacket Zone'

According to official U.S. Coast Guard statistics, the major cause of water fatalities is drowning, not collision. The information is a portion of the syllabus for most boating safety courses. There is however something that can be done to prevent and diminish the occurrence of this risk, and that is: wear a life jacket. 
Through the efforts of the local Lake Lanier flotilla, USCG Flotilla 29, there is now a program stressing safety by placing painted, stenciled decals at boat ramps that read, “LIFE JACKET ZONE.”
The program is headed up by dedicated flotilla member and officer, Dan Vaccarro, plus ACE volunteers Tim and Winona Baker.
The message (and its location) is a fresh, real-time, bold statement of the benefits of wearing a flotation device. The best way to convey a message, especially one as important as this, is with short but direct visible graphics at the location where it is needed most. It’s very similar in concept to the internationally mandated “No Smoking” stencil on all foreign and domestic superstructures of commercial vessels, especially oil tankers. Designed for all the crew and visitors on deck to see and functions as a critical reminder. 
A division of my professional duties in USCG Training is to serve as assessor for water survival in the International Maritime Organization, IMO course called Basic Training. Required by international standards and maritime law, the mariner is directed to show proficiency in wearing and utilizing various forms of survival equipment – life jackets being the main focus. All of this is conducted in an indoor heated pool with plenty of lifeguards present. Even with those safeguards in place there is the occasional close call with someone not comfortable with wearing a life jacket or thinking it is not needed. 
Regardless of how safe you perceive you are, there can be times when incidents happen, unannounced, completely by surprise. life jackets are designed for these situations. That’s the foundation of water safety, the aptitude to not only stay afloat, but prepare for the unexpected.
Ask yourself this one very important question: Do you have the ability to swim or stay afloat for a reasonable period of time in the water, in spite of the season, time of day, or condition of the surface?

Wearing a life jacket helps even the odds of survival in all the variants, no matter what the actual environment. My one reservation as to the “controlled” training in a pool: It does not realistically promote actual conditions of cold or rough ocean, river, or lake. On the good side of this type of training: it does provide an introduction to the circumstances. It is far better to be prepared then blindly react to an incident. Wearing of a life jacket displays faith in survival technology. 
There are different types of lifejackets, also known as Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), each serving a specific purpose and all delivering one extra, extremely effective benefit: increased confidence.
The USCG Auxiliary, Power Squadron, other agencies and organizations have more details on this subject or contact me to find out more tips on PFDs, especially the new USCG-approved type just entering the market called U-Float.
Remember the next time you venture out on the water. You are entering the ... Life Jacket Zone.

November 2017 column

Background on the U.S. Coast Guard Racing Stripe

This famous logo first came to life during the early 1960s when there was an urgent need to identify the rescue and law enforcement service to other boaters and military craft, air and sea. During WWII Coast Guard Cutters painted like other war ships but carried the letter “W” in front of their hull number to distinguish from the U.S. Navy. Ordered and adopted by President John F. Kennedy, the service has never looked back. The icon of the U.S. Coast Guard is emulated by other similar organizations and agencies around the globe in some related fashion, especially the diagonal design of the stripes.

A profound difference in the color scheme of the two logos, even including the additional wording, “Auxiliary.” With enthusiasm, I can assure the same mind-set and core mission values are identical. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is an integral part of operations for the service, providing tremendous benefit to the public in boating safety, inspections, and training.
Where did the Auxiliary get its start? Congress passed a law on June 19, 1941 that restructured the Coast Guard Reserve. Now the service was directed to operate two reserve forces. The already existing civilian reserve organization was renamed the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. The newly structured U.S. Coast Guard Reserve was to function on a military basis providing an important resource of wartime capabilities, very similar to the duties of the other armed services.
The next time you see one of these dedicated professionals at the boat show, your marina, on patrol, training seminars, or performing safety inspections please remember: without them, the waterways we enjoy for recreational boating would be much different and complex. 
Coupled with the Power Squadron, other boating safety organizations, and license training institutions they expertly provide essential, and sometimes under-appreciated assistance. Boating safety is not complete with a one-time educational event but is without doubt a fulltime endeavor. It’s a very valuable skill set to achieve and utilize to your benefit.  
Winter season is almost upon us, a perfect time to enhance boating knowledge through any form of training. Contact me if you want to know more and where to get this valuable information that will radically change the way you think about boating, improving your experience on the water. 
This article is dedicated to the memory of fellow Lakeside News columnist, Roy Crittenden, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, who passed away this year. His dedication of unwavering service to the public, the organization, and boating safety will be remembered.

October 2017 column

What is the 'sail effect' for power boaters

Description: Final approach to the dock at bare steerageway, lines ready, forward spring first, quickly followed by other leads securing the large High Endurance Coast Guard Cutter to the mooring. This can be a challenge depending on the powerful forces of wind and current. The same mindset applies to the task of safely stopping with anchor, paying out the necessary scope of anchor line or chain to secure and hold the boat in place.

The most important part of ship handling is to control the movement through the water using all available resources, both natural and engineered. Maneuvering at slow speeds presents all sorts of conditions that can redirect the watercraft and stand into danger. Different dynamics depending on the size and design contributes to the strength of the forces acting on the control of the vessel, one of which is known as “Sail Effect.”  You can learn more about wind influence on power boats at:

Most military ships, both Navy and Coast Guard, stationed in the Atlantic and Caribbean regions, visit Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for intense training called REFTRA which stands for Refresher Training. It is absolutely the most effective and practical education there is available anywhere in the maritime world. Through tough, expertly designed and delivered exercises, the training hones skill sets that make the ship and crew ready for any contingency, in all conditions or threat levels.  
Each night vessels return from sea off the Southern Coast of Cuba following a long day filled with countless drills and preparation for things like navigation, Search and Rescue, and other duties. US Navy Port Control assigns a different berth depending on mission and schedule. It is a very busy place when it comes to ship traffic so dock space can be limited. In command of the ship’s navigation as the deck watch officer, my duty was to safely pilot the ship into port and dock safely at the pier. Port Control decided the outside berth between two large US Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyers would be the location. In addition to the very difficult position, the prevailing wind was strong, especially in the evening hours blowing off the dock. A mere 200 yards from that very same side of the pier was shoal; complete with jagged rocks jutting sharply out of the water. No room for error, everything was literally riding on this task performed correctly.

The initial course to the starboard side berth – “port side to” – placed me below or to the left of the entrance at the beginning of the pier which would provide for the wind striking on the port side of the ship blowing me safely through the narrow gap. It’s a technique not for the faint of heart, as it relied on the force of the wind providing lateral movement. Once in the shadow of the first Navy destroyer the wind ceased to have an effect on control and I could now maneuver more effectively with engines and rudder. Preparing for the upcoming wind blowing me off the dock again as I breached the open and narrow space in between the ships, my objective was to decrease the surface volume of the superstructure of my vessel, lessening the adverse pushing effects of the wind. Retracting the helicopter hanger gave me the needed reduction of exposed side structure. Shortly thereafter, final reach. We are safely docked alongside, with all lines made fast. It could have gone wrong if not for continual training. 
It’s something all boaters should consider. Understanding the pros and cons of side forces can make you a better pilot in every aspect.  Each vessel has a unique character when operating in the wind. Knowing and understanding how  “Sail Effect” can be harnessed and controlled for your benefit and is one factor to boat handling success. Next time the wind starts to blow brisk take advantage of the situation and practice. You’ll be glad you did.


September 2017 column

An explanation of LORAN (Long Range Navigation)

LORAN is an acronym for Long Range Navigation. It is currently an obsolete terrestrial radio navigation system which enabled ships and aircraft to precisely determine their position and speed from low frequency radio signals transmitted by fixed land based radio beacons, using a dedicated receiver unit. 
The final version of LORAN in North America was LORAN-C, which operated in the low frequency level of the radio spectrum from 90 to 110 kHz. Russia used a nearly identical system in the same frequency range, called CHAYKA. LORAN was in steep decline in the ’90s and early part of the 21st century with the satellite-based Global Positioning System being the preferred technology that eventually replaced it. 
However, there have been attempts to enhance and re-popularize LORAN, mainly to serve as a backup and land-based alternative to GPS and other satellite navigation systems. The current program has been phased out in the United States and Canada. The United States Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard ceased transmitting LORAN-C signals in early 2010. The other updated version of the navigation tool was E-Loran, primarily used in other parts of the globe. It was discontinued December 31, 2015 with international authorities leaving a few stations operating in the European sector ... just in case.
Instruction of this type of navigation skill was a requirement until a few years ago and to this day the training charts used in USCG license examinations are full of these remnant lines. 
Through the use of a Loran Linear Interpolator scale (upper right hand corner on the navigational paper chart graphic) you could very accurately determine your position. Even on some of the GPS Multi-Function Displays there is evidence of E-LORAN input in the operating systems. 
Why return to an old way of navigation? Maybe because it is terrestrial, not dependent on the premium cost and crowded space of satellites that orbit the Earth. Back-up systems are always critical to ensure accuracy regardless of the type vessel, aircraft, or vehicle you are operating. Are you absolutely sure your GPS is providing correct information all the time? Navigation is a vast arena of technology and utility. 
The return of LORAN can certainly help maintain a consistent environment and help reduce incidents that can develop with too little or inaccurate  sensor input.


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