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USCGA column

Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary: an important relationship

During 2014, the Coast Guard Auxiliary represented the Coast Guard in a number of patriotic celebrations throughout the Atlanta area. We had Auxiliary vessels and crew in four parades, participated in six special services at area churches, participated in two city sponsored celebrations where representatives of the various military services were present. These activities typically occur during Memorial Day, 4th of July and Veteran’s Day in November. We are frequently asked about the relationship between the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The United States Coast Guard is the nation’s oldest continuous seagoing service, now over 200 years old. When our nation was born almost all trade was done by ship. Immediately there became a need for an organization to ensure safe transportation and enforce U.S. law. The roots of the Coast Guard date back to 1790. Over the years the duties of the Coast Guard have expanded. Today they include search and rescue, national security (patrolling 95,000 miles of coastline), marine boating safety, aids to navigation, bridge administration and ice operations.  

The Coast Guard promotes safety on, over and under the high seas and navigable waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.  The Coast Guard is authorized by law to develop, establish, maintain and operate search and rescue facilities (vessels and aircraft).  The Coast Guard is authorized to perform any and all acts necessary to rescue and aid persons and save property at any time and at any place where its facilities and personnel are available and can be effectively used. However, there is no legal duty for the CG to undertake any particular rescue mission. They are the world’s leading maritime humanitarian safety service and are viewed as a strong contributor to our nation’s security.  National security is woven through all its missions, especially maritime law enforcement and its role as one of the five armed forces of the United States.

The Coast Guard is a professional organization whose 43,000 personnel are proud of their traditions as lifesavers, guardians of the sea and a military service. Further, the CG contributes significantly to our national economy, as marine transportation remains the primary method of trade movement today.  Effective March 1, 2003, the Coast Guard moved from the Department of Transportation to the Department of National Security.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary traces its beginnings back to June 23, 1939, when Congress enacted “The Coast Guard Reserve Act of 1939.” In February, 1941, a new act created the Military Reserve and renamed the original reserve the “Coast Guard Auxiliary.” The act provided that the Auxiliary shall be composed of citizens of the U.S. and that the purpose of the Auxiliary is to assist the Coast Guard, to further interest of safety of life at sea and upon navigable waters, to promote efficiency in operation of motorboats and yachts, to foster a wide knowledge of and better compliance with the laws, rules and regulations governing the operation of motorboats and yachts and to facilitate other operations of the U.S. Coast Guard.

By conducting a wide variety of patrols and search and rescue missions, lives and property are saved.  Operations are a demanding activity where qualified Auxiliarists may use their knowledge, skills and facilities, both surface and air, in an active and satisfying manner.  The CG Auxiliary is a volunteer civilian organization under the direction of the Coast Guard. It is also the largest of the civilian service organizations. The functions of the Auxiliary include promotion of recreational boating safety and support to active duty units, especially where the Auxiliary and the Coast Guard are in close proximity.

The Auxiliary operational facilities are excellent resources, which can, within their capacities, enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to maritime emergencies. Auxiliary members wear the Coast Guard Uniform and are under CG orders while performing safety and regatta patrols and while performing air missions for the Coast Guard. “The purpose and future mission of the Coast Guard Auxiliary is to assist the Coast Guard as authorized by the Commandant of the Coast Guard in performing any Coast Guard function, power, duty, role, mission or operation authorized by law,”  (From the Coast Guard Act of 1995/1996).

Boating Safely & Personal Watercraft Certification - February 21

  • Course: NASBLA certified entry level classroom-only course with test for boater education and PWC certification. Covers basic boating terminology, “rules of the road,” navigation, operation, legal requirements, emergencies, water etiquette and more.
  • Instructors: U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers
  • Minimum age: 12, students 12-15 receive PWC certification.
  • When: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Bring sack lunch) Feb. 21
  • Where: U.S. Coast Guard Flotilla 29, 6595 Lights Ferry Rd., Flowery Branch
  • Cost: Individuals $40, family discount  2 or more members $25 each
  • Private lessons also available for groups or organizations outside normal schedule. Contact Sara Snyder, 770-841-8388
  • Information/registration: http://a0700209.uscgaux.info/public_education.php, 770-841-8388. Pre-registration required. Send email to asbs10@comcast.net.


Roy Crittenden is Public Affairs Officer for Flotilla 29.
More info: Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier, 770-393-4382, alcrit@mindspring.com, http://a0700209.uscgaux.info




January 2015 column

2015 safe boating courses begin in February

As you read this article, the Atlanta Boat Show will be underway or on the verge of opening.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary will be located in booth 244 in Hall “C” of the Georgia World Congress Center. We invite you to stop by and talk with our members about membership or almost any phase of recreational boating, including arranging for a free Vessel Safety Check. In addition, you can pick up a safe boating course schedule for 2015 being offered by Flotilla 22 Lake Allatoona and Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier.  

On a personal note, at one time I knew absolutely nothing about the Coast Guard Auxiliary, even though I had been a boater for a number of years. After taking their course, I learned who they were and what they did, including their relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard. That was over 20 years ago, and I never regretted my decision to join.

Take a minute now and read the U.S. Coast Guard’s recreational boating accident statistics for 2013, the latest information available, then give thought to scheduling a one-day boating safety course in 2015:

  • 4,062 boating accidents
  • 560 deaths
  • 2,620 injuries
  • 77 percent of deaths due to drowning
  • 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket
  • 80 percent of deaths on boats where the operator had not taken a safe boating course
  • five top causes of accidents were:
             – operator inattention
             – operator inexperience
             – improper lookout
             – excessive speed and
             – machinery failure.

I was amused recently to read that a frequently used excuse given to law enforcement for speeding in an auto was “I was just keeping up with the flow of traffic.” The officer’s reply was “the flow of traffic is not necessarily the speed limit.”  Accidents/deaths on the water usually are followed by questions asked by law enforcement, and one of them could well be “have you taken a safe boating course”?  Please don’t be one of the 86 percent above.

The courses vary some, but cover topics such as, but not limited to, “Know Your Boat, Before Getting Underway, Navigating the Waterways, Operating Your Vessel Safely, Boating’s Legal Requirements, Boating Emergencies, Enjoying Water Sports and Georgia Boating Laws.”

Successful completion of this course may result in a discounted premium on your boat’s insurance premium that could easily be enough to cover the small fee for the course. Becoming a more knowledgeable skipper will make boating much more fun and relaxing and could bring a sense of “reassurance” to some of your guests!

Another good reason to take a course is because Maritime Law holds the skipper responsible for anything that happens on your vessel, even the conduct of your passengers. There are written navigation rules referred to as the “72” COLREGS” governing operation of boats in international and inland waters. If you violate any of these rules and cause a problem, you can be held accountable to these rules.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea to be familiar with the most common ones?

The civil penalty that can be imposed for violation of these rules has been set at “not more than $5,000 for each violation.” We’re only asking you to spend one day and about $40 to make you a more knowledgeable and safer boater.

These Coast Guard Auxiliary courses begin February 21 at Lake Lanier. To get signed up for the February course please see the safe boating course announcement below.

Boating Safely & Personal Watercraft Certification

  • Course: NASBLA certified entry level classroom-only course with test for boater education and PWC certification. Covers basic boating terminology, “rules of the road,” navigation, operation, legal requirements, emergencies, water etiquette and more.
  • Instructors: U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers
  • Minimum age: 12, students 12-15 receive PWC certification.
  • When: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Bring sack lunch) Feb. 21
  • Where: U.S. Coast Guard Flotilla 29, 6595 Lights Ferry Rd., Flowery Branch
  • Cost: Individuals $40, family discount  2 or more members $25 each
  • Private lessons also available for groups or organizations outside normal schedule. Contact Sara Snyder, 770-841-8388
  • Information/registration: http://a0700209.uscgaux.info/public_education.php, 770-841-8388. Pre-registration required. Send email to asbs10@comcast.net.


December 2014 column

The 53rd Atlanta Boat Show will be here before you know it

Cold weather is here and boats are being winterized. Next on your agenda should be the huge 53rd  Annual Atlanta Boat Show, again being held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta January 15-18.  

One of the many things I really like about this boat show is the timing. It’s too cold to boat, unless you are a diehard fisherman, and football season is over, with the exception of the Super Bowl. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is not performing safety patrols on area lakes unless special circumstances call for our presence. It’s a great time to gather up the family and take in a boat show, talking with the manufacturer’s representatives and the dealers, who are selling all kinds of vessels to suit the needs of anyone or any family. There are also booths where all kinds of boating paraphernalia will be offered, from electronics to life jackets. The Coast Guard Auxiliary will also have a booth which will be located at the rear of the building along with other 10x10 booths.  The U.S. Coast Guard will have their traveling exhibit in the front lobby as last year. By the way, it is important to choose the right type of boat for your needs, as we will discuss now.

Another thing you should know is that over 90 percent of the registered boats in the United States are trailerable boats, meaning that their length usually does not exceed 26 feet and their weight is maximized at around 5,000-6,000 pounds.  Vessels larger than that usually call for special towing rigs not available to the average family. Boats come in many models, sizes, and types. Each serves a specific need.  A boat developed for one purpose may serve poorly for another.  Likewise, a boat that is safe in one set of conditions may not be safe for others. When you select a boat, be sure that it will suit your needs.  Let’s now look at the overall types of boats available.

Of course, we have sailing vessels, some even have engines!  Then we have other groups of boats known as utility boats, runabouts, cruisers, pontoon boats, houseboats, personal watercraft, yes, they are also called boats, and others. These are the types most seen on area lakes and rivers. If a family intends to host guests who are a little apprehensive about boating, a pontoon boat makes a great platform, offering room to walk around and generally slower in speed, offering a smoother ride.  If you plan to spend nights under the stars, you should look at cabin cruisers, beginning around 24 feet and running on up. They usually accommodate two adults and two children. Houseboats are “floating condos” and you can entertain the whole neighborhood! A fairly new addition to the boating line is the “deck boat,” which combines the space and openness of a pontoon boat with the speed through the water of a planning hull boats like  runabouts or cruisers. Generally, there is no cabin space, also common to the pontoon boat. These boats have gained in popularity over the past few years. That’s about as far as we can go with this, but for you first time boat owners, I hope this overview will help.

One last thought; it’s a good idea to have a way to keep one or all of your passengers out of the sun, and sometimes out of the rain.  This calls for a “hardtop” cover or a canvas top, sometimes referred to as a “Bimini” top. The latter type can be folded down when not wanted. You can also add clear vinyl enclosure to further protect you from the elements.

And please visit the booths that feature equipment for your boat.  This will be a great time to consider a VHF marine radio or GPS if you don’t currently have either.  The Coast Guard does not recommend a cell phone as your only means of communication. If you have room on your dashboard, and the location is fairly protected from rain, we recommend the mounted type. The transmitting power is 25 watts. If your boat is a smaller version with no room for a protected mounted radio, you may want to consider a hand held VHF radio.  Transmitting power is 5-6 watts, which will get you out several miles, and usually sufficient for Lake Lanier.

See you at the show, and please drop by our booth for free Georgia Boating Regulations, safe boating literature covering a multitude of marine subjects and information on safe boating courses being offered by  the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary throughout the majority of the State of Georgia.


Novmeber 2014 column

Here's how to properly use the marine radio

One of my duties in the Coast Guard Auxiliary is occasionally standing radio watch in our Operations Center located on Lake Lanier. Our purpose there is to monitor marine radio traffic and report any emergencies or calls for help to our vessel on safety patrol duty that day. We also have the ability to communicate with TOW BOAT/US when needed. Over the past 20 years or so I believe that I’ve heard it all. Some of the things I hear from recreational boats break FCC rules for marine radio use. Should the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) ever monitor these law-breaking events, the penalty can be severe.  For instance, the misuse of Channel 16, a hailing channel, is serious enough that it is a class D felony in the event a hoax call is made reporting an emergency. It is also a criminal offense to use obscene, indecent or profane language. The fine is up to $10,000 or imprisonment up to two years, or both. I would advise you to guard your set against unauthorized use by friends or young children.

When making a call on Channel 16 or Channel 9, always identify yourself by radio call sign (assigned by the FCC) or boat name at the beginning and end of every radio communication. When your party answers, switch to a “working” channel such as 68, 69, 71 or 72. That frees up Channel 16 for someone else. Don’t make a general call such as, “Calling any boat for a radio check.” You must call a specific vessel, station, or commercial service such as TOW BOAT/US. A “Mayday” broadcast may be made only when there is immediate danger of loss of life or danger to the boat itself. A “Pan Pan” broadcast is used to announce that you are concerned, but neither crew nor boat is in immediate danger. A “Security,” pronounced in French “SAY-CUR-EETAY” broadcast is reserved to warn of a navigation hazard such as a floating log. Several years ago while I was on Savannah waters I heard that broadcast from the Coast Guard concerning a log reported to be floating down the Savannah River.

If your boat is less than 20 meters (65 feet) in length no FCC license is required, but if over 20 meters you must have a license.  You must also have a license for a single sideband (SSB) radio, or if you are a charter captain and have six or more paying passengers on board. An FCC license form can be ordered by going to the internet at www.fcc.gov. Finally, at least for this article, the use of your handheld marine radio is restricted to use on water only. Land use is prohibited by law. That rule also applies to a fixed radio on a boat on a trailer.

There is much more to be said on the use of the marine radio, but when you use proper technique, other informed skippers recognize it. I urge those of you who have not yet taken the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s one-day safe boating course to contact us for a schedule of 2015 courses or stop by our booth at the January 2015 Atlanta Boat Show at the Georgia World Congress Center and talk with our members manning the booth.  Schedules will be available there for all area USCG Flotillas.


October 2014 column

Hypothermia can foil the joys of fall boating

October and November can be a great time of the year to take the family and friends out for a day of recreational boating, picnicking, leaf viewing and generally having a great time. Air temperatures are just right to brisk and water temps are still in the moderate range. At the time of the writing of this article, Lake Lanier is slightly below normal pool, a rare occurrence compared to past years. While recreational boating slows down during October and November, fishermen and some boaters with heated cabins will still find their way out on the water for a day of relaxation and fun.

Boating accident statistics give us a warning, however, about boating during October, November and December. I have access to U.S. Coast Guard boating accident statistics for 2013, and they give us reason to be concerned. Trauma, drowning and hypothermia continue to rank one, two and three as causes of death. The highest percentage of accidents resulting in death occurred in October (25 percent), November (22 percent) and December (26 percent). The other nine months ranged from 11 percent to 27 percent (Feb.).  

Hypothermia is not “freezing to death,” nor is it “frostbite,” and it can kill at temperatures well above freezing. To give you an idea of how much time you have if you fall overboard when the water temperature drops, consider this: water temperature 50-60 degrees, unconsciousness can occur in 1-2 hours, death 1-6 hours. If water temperature is 40-50 degrees, unconsciousness can occur in 30-60 minutes, death 1-3 hours. If you plan to be on the water this fall and winter, there are things you can do to prevent hypothermia.

  • Try to avoid boating alone.  It’s nice to have help in emergencies.
  • Avoid situations that promote loss of body heat. Stay dry and out of the cold wind.
  • Wear your life jacket, since it will help keep preserve body heat, and in the event you fall overboard you will be better able to return to the boat.  
  • Proper clothing makes a big difference. Wool clothing is much better than synthetics.
  • Have a blanket or two on board to warm anyone who may need them, whether or not anyone falls overboard.


Remember, too, that there will probably not be many other boaters around you during this time of the year, meaning “Good Samaritans” will be scarce. Should you find yourself in the position of rescuing someone who possibly is suffering from hypothermia, keep this in mind; their energy resources are minimal. Have them do as little as possible to help you in their rescue.  They may deplete what energy reserves they have left.  Hypothermic people have died after rescue because of their exertion during the rescue.

Fall boating can be a wonderful experience, but one needs to exercise caution since the rules have changed some from summer boating. To learn more about cold weather boating and other important facets of recreational boating, consider taking our one-day “About Boating Safety” course being offered at Lake Lanier from February through October each year. Announcements of our courses are printed in this newspaper and in other lake area newspapers during those months. Please plan to visit our safety booth at the Atlanta Boat Show January 15-18, 2015.  We will again be located in the rear of the exhibit area where the 10’x 10’ booths are situated at the Georgia World Congress Center, and will have ample free safe boating brochures available. You will also be able to speak with our knowledgeable Auxiliarists on duty should you have questions. Safe boating schedules for 2015 will be available for many of the flotillas in north Georgia.


September 2014 column

Only two more USCGA courses offered in 2014

“Beginning July 1, 2014, any person born after January 1, 1998, must have completed a boater education course approved by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before he or she may legally operate a motorized vessel on Georgia waters.”  (Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibility)

Our last two courses this year are scheduled for September 13 and October 11, both Saturdays. It would be a great idea to get your kids ready for the 2015 boating season by encouraging them to complete the course for certification within the next two months.

We’re not ruling out adults either! U.S. Coast Guard annual boating accident statistics show that approximately 85 percent of boat operators involved in boating accidents had not taken a safe boating course. Surely, that tells us that there must be some information in safe boating courses that leads to safer and more enjoyable times on the water. As a longtime small boat owner, my first course was the Auxiliary course offered here in the Atlanta area. After completing it, I realized how many times during previous years of boating I had failed to follow boating rules and laws, and I was fortunate in that I did not have any serious problems related to my lack of boating education.

Take the following short true or false test and measure your level of knowledge regarding some boating situations:

Most boating fatalities:
  • Occur at sea.
  • Happen to women, minorities and children under the age of 18.
  • Happen in bad weather.
  • Are from bodily injuries, due to collisions.
  • Happen to inexperienced boaters.
  •  
More questions:
  • The law only requires that you have one life jacket per person on board.
  • It is OK to put a child in an adult life jacket but not vice versa.
  • Most all boat-related drownings occur because there weren’t enough life jackets onboard.
  • The law views an inflatable life jacket the same as a regular life jacket.
  • A floatable seat cushion counts as a life jacket.

Ready for the answers? All of the statements are false.

To learn why, and much more, please give serious consideration to signing you and your family up for one of the two remaining courses offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary this year, and be ready for the 2015 boating season.

See an announcement regarding costs and registration below or feel free to contact us at:

For additional information on this and other subjects relating to safe boating, please plan to take one of our monthly safe boating courses advertised below or contact us at: Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier at http://a0700209.uscgaux.info.


Contacting USCGA during an emergency on Lanier


The Coast Guard Auxiliary’s operations center with watch stander is open from mid-May through September, weekends and holidays, from 1 p.m.-7 p.m., and can be reached by VHF/FM marine radio on Channel 16 or by cell phone by calling 770-967-2322.



August 2014 column

Your boat's navigational lights are necessary for safety

Earlier in the year, we did an article on the “Navigational Rules” or officially known as the “72 COLREGS,” the purpose of which is to prevent collisions at sea. This small booklet is available at marine supply stores and should be on board all vessels – and read by the skipper. Boats whose length measures 12 meters or more are required to have a copy onboard.

Part C of the rules covers “Lights & Shapes,” and we’ll take a closer look at this section in this article. I recently read of an unfortunate collision between two boats at night on a lake where two people were killed. We ask ourselves “How did this happen?” or “This would never happen to me.” Investigators found that the boat that was hit was drifting, motor off, in the middle of the lake. They had turned off the boat’s navigational lights to make it easier to look up at the stars. That mistake and rules infraction cost two lives and caused trouble for all involved.

Rule 20 of Part C states that the “Rules in this Part shall be complied with in all weathers.” It goes on to state that “the Rules concerning lights shall be complied with from sunset to sunrise, and during such times no other lights shall be exhibited ... .” Let’s pause here and discuss a rather common occurrence we see on Lake Lanier when visibility is limited; pontoon boats making way with their proper navigational lights turned on along with two lights on the front of the boat that resemble headlights on an automobile. These lights are docking lights and not navigational lights, and they are in violation of Rule 20 when the boat is underway. They also reduce vision of other boaters in the vicinity.

The red and green lights carried forward are called “side lights” and your boat will also have a white light high on the boat and/or a white “stern light.” The purpose of these lights is to let other boaters know where you are and in which direction you are going. If you are approaching a vessel head-on, you should see a red, green and white light. If you are approaching the vessel from the stern, you should see the single white light. If you are approaching the underway vessel from a crossing position, you should see either a red or green light. If you see a red light, you are the burdened vessel and must give way to the other vessel. If you see a green light, you have the right-of-way (privileged vessel) and must maintain course and speed, but must be prepared to take evasive action to prevent a collision in case the other vessel’s skipper doesn’t abide by the rules or doesn’t know the rules.  

When was the last time you checked your lights at the dock? A few years ago I inspected a 34-foot fairly new cabin cruiser, and a light inspection is on our check sheet.  One bow light did not burn and the skipper was surprised. I did a recheck a week or so later and he told me it turned out to be a wiring problem at the light. If you are going out and may be on the water after sunset or if suspect weather has been forecast, be sure to check your nav lights before leaving the dock. Also check to make sure none are obscured by objects on the boat such as fenders, anchor, line, etc.


July 2014 column

Inattention and improper lookout are major factors in accidents


The U. S. Coast Guard recently released their 2013 Boating Accident Statistics report and it revealed some stunning information. In the table listing the 30 “Contributing Factors to Boating Accidents,” No. 1 was “Operator Inattention” and No. 2 was “Improper Lookout.” Another interesting stat: “Alcohol Use” was No. 5.

There were a total of 4,062 accidents reported, with 567 were due to Operator Inattention and 396 were due to Improper Lookout. Combined, these two factors represented 24 percent of the total number of accidents. Injuries caused by the top two contributing factors also represented 24 percent of the total injuries.

These numbers should make us ask ourselves “just what is a “proper lookout,” while “operator inattention” is easier to define. In the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s monthly safe boating courses offered at our Operations Center at Lake Lanier, we discuss these two topics in detail. If you visualize yourself at the wheel on the starboard (right) side of the boat, you have a clear view ahead and to your right as well, but you don’t have a good view off the port (left) side of your vessel.  That’s the area where your “lookout” is needed.

If you are boating alone, you’ve got to provide both “lookout” and “operator’s full attention” duties.  You simply cannot afford to be fiddling around with your radio, GPS, radar, looking aft talking with your passengers, petting your dog, etc., while underway at speed. When the Auxiliary is underway performing a safety patrol, regatta patrol or search and rescue mission, the Coast Guard requires a certain number of crew depending on the size of the patrol boat. One of that crew has the responsibility as “lookout.”

The next time you leave the boat ramp or slip, please keep these factors in mind. We have case after case every year on Lake Lanier where these two factors play major roles in recreational boating accidents. Please don’t become one of these statistics. It’s a problem that has an easy fix and it doesn’t cost a dime.


June 2014 column

Visual distress signals: the right number and type


In the event of a true emergency on the water, we have talked extensively about the practicality of having a VHF-FM marine radio or cell phone on board. Visual distress signals (VDS) are also added value in hailing someone nearby, especially at night. Vessels on federally controlled waters must be equipped with visual distress signals that are U.S. Coast Guard approved, in serviceable condition, and are readily accessible. They carry a date of manufacture and an expiration date. If yours are out of date, they may still work, but you will need to have the appropriate number of in-date VDS on board as well. It has been my experience while performing our free vessel safety checks to find visual distress signals that are out of date. Since they are seldom used, they don’t get the visual check that maybe a fire extinguisher gets.

All vessels, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. Most vessels must carry day signals also, but there are exceptions; recreational vessels less than 16 feet in length, non-motorized open sailboats that are less than 26 feet in length, and manually propelled vessels.

If pyrotechnic VDS are used, a minimum of three must be carried on board. The following combinations of signals are examples of VDS that could be carried on board to satisfy U.S. Coast Guard requirements:
  • Three handheld red flares (day and night)
  • One handheld red flare and two red meteors (day and night)
  • One handheld orange smoke signal (day) and two floating orange smoke signals (day), and one electric light (night only).

Note: it is prohibited to display visual distress signals while on the water unless assistance is required to prevent immediate or potential danger to persons on board.

Examples of non-pyrotechnic visual distress signals are an electric light, orange flag with a black square and black circle, and simple arm signals, arms extended to the side, waving up and down.
If a skipper says to themselves “my boat never breaks down, why should I comply”? Should you be in coastal waters or rivers where the Coast Guard is operating, the Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty up to $1,000 for failure to comply with equipment requirements. Secondly, one never knows when an emergency situation on the water will occur, whether to you or someone you assist.  Risking a fine is one thing; your ability to signal others in a distress situation which could affect you and your family is another.

The “Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibilities” published by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources covers the requirements of visual distress signals as does a pamphlet offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary titled “Orion, Saved by the Signal.”


May 2014 column

National Safe Boating Week is May 17-23: Wearing a life jacket is simply a life-saving strategy

As the weather starts to warm up, we’re all anxious to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Families and friends gather together to enjoy the outdoors, travel on vacations and spend time on the water – boating, fishing, sailing and more.  It’s important to remember the safety precautions to take during all of these recreational water activities.

But, with approximately 500 people drowning each year from recreational boating accidents, it is imperative to push the message of “Wear It!” Wear your life jacket at all times while you are on the water. “Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket,” says  Virgil Chambers, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council. “It’s important that everyone wears a life jacket while on the water. There’s no reason why you, your family and friends, can’t have fun on the water while also choosing to always wear a life jacket.”

Here are a few boating safety tips to keep in mind this boating season:
  • No matter what activity you have planned – boating, fishing, sailing, etc. – always remember to wear a life jacket every time you are on the water.
  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved and fits properly. Double check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite boating activities.
  • Life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow in to.”

“A life jacket can’t save your life unless you “Wear It!” continued Chambers. With today’s variety of comfortable, stylish life jackets there’s a life jacket for everyone-even our four-legged friends!” U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in three-fourths of recreational boating fatalities in 2010, and that 88 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. That’s why boating safety advocates continue to push for increased and consistent life jacket wear on the water. As we have reminded you before, the new Georgia life jacket law requires that children under 13 years of age must wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket while on board any moving vessel. This law does not apply when the child is in a fully enclosed cabin.

It is my hope that all who read this article will make a conscious effort to take safe boating more seriously. No one leaves the dock or launching ramp expecting to have an accident, but they do happen, and at an alarming rate. According to Georgia DNR boating accident statistics for 2012, there were 36 boating incidents on Lake Lanier, with 13 injuries and five fatalities. In addition, there were 60 boating under the influence charges. Not only do you have to look out for yourself, but you have to look out for others who may not be as safety conscious as you.

If you and/or your family members have not taken one of the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s monthly one-day safe boating courses, please see the announcement of our May course below.


April 2014 column

The mission of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: Recreational boating safety

With the passage of Auxiliary legislation in October 1996, the Auxiliary’s role was greatly expanded to enable Auxiliary participation in any Coast Guard mission authorized by the Commandant of the Coast Guard with the exception of combat and direct law enforcement.

Prior to the horrific events of  September 11, 2001, the U.S. Coast Guard was under the control of the Department of Transportation during peacetime, but during conditions of war, it would be moved to the Department of the Navy.  During 2002, President Bush placed the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Auxiliary under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security. With additional responsibilities placed upon the Coast Guard, recreational boating safety became the responsibility of the Auxiliary.

The Auxiliary has mission responsibility to support the Office of Boating Safety (G-OPB) with the development and implementation of various Recreational Boating Safety programs. This mission includes Auxiliary traditional activities conducted on behalf of federal, state and local governments to improve the knowledge, safety skills, and operating environment of recreational boaters.  These include, but are not limited to:
  • Public education programs
  • Vessel examinations
  • Liaison for the purposes of enhancing RBS and the images of the Coast Guard and the Auxiliary in the environs with other organizations, communities, groups, clubs, associations and enterprises.
  • Distribution of RBS literature and information for the boating public through the RBS Visitation Programs (RBSVP).

The goal of this visitation program is to establish “community partners” with businesses frequented by recreational boaters and visit them on a regular basis. The majority of these “accounts” are composed of marinas, boat sales companies, marine products companies, marine repair shops, boat rental companies, bait and tackle shops, water sports companies, etc. We also call on “big box” stores that sell fishing equipment. Our visitors place a two-tier brochure holder in each of the accounts and stock it with six to eight different types of safe boating literature, including the State DNR Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibilities. The visitors also discuss with management various Auxiliary programs including safe boating course schedules and Vessel Safety Check (VSC) schedules. Currently, there are ninw certified active Program Visitors in Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier, calling on approximately 76 accounts around the lake. Our goal is to call on them on a monthly basis, thereby maintaining a good working relationship with their management.  As a group, we feel like we are selling “safety on the water,” and we never know when a recreational boater will pick up one of our free pieces of literature that winds up saving their life.


March 2014 column

Now is the time to check your boat's required equipment

This past week we have enjoyed spring-like temperatures that make us the envy of many in the colder regions of our country. Weather that most of us prefer before taking our boats out of “moth balls” certainly is not far away. The next few weeks will be a perfect time to make a check of state required equipment to make sure you have everything you need before venturing out on the water. Some equipment has expiration dates, so that needs to be checked as well.

Requirements vary according to the length of your vessel. In this article I will cover only the categories of equipment, since space will not allow a complete discussion of all the information related to each category. For a complete explanation of all the Georgia laws covering equipment, please refer to the “Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibilities” which is published annually by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The booklets are available at boating supply stores, marinas and many marine dealers. The Coast Guard Auxiliary has a program to distribute these and other safe boating material to these types of businesses. We also cover this subject in our “About Boating Safely” public education course.

State registration
Your vessel must have a valid state of Georgia decal posted on each side of the bow, just ahead of the state issued numbers. These numbers must be three inch high block letters properly spaced and of a contrasting color from your boat. Letters and numbers must be separated by a space or hyphen.  You must also have your state issued registration card onboard along with a photo ID. For registration information please visit: www.goboatgeorgia.com.

Personal flotation devices
All vessels must have at least one USCG approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket for each person onboard, and they must fit properly. In addition, Type V PFDs are acceptable only when worn and are securely fastened. Children under 10 years must wear their jacket unless they are in a fully enclosed cabin. In 90 percent of drownings, the person was not wearing a life jacket.

Navigation lights
Failure to show necessary lights is one of the leading causes of fatal accidents in Georgia. Lights must be turned on from “sundown to sunrise” and during other times of limited visibility such as during rain, heavy haze, or fog. If you are planning to cruise late in the afternoon and may not return until after sundown, it is a good idea to check your lighting before you leave the dock or launching ramp.

Visual distress signals
Visual Distress Signals allow vessel operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency, and you will need signals appropriate for both daylight and darkness.  Commonly used signals include hand held orange smoke, hand held red flares, orange flag, electric light, mirror or arm signal (waving extended arms to the side up and down). Visual Distress Signals exhibit a date of manufacture and an expiration date. They must be in date to pass inspection.

Sound producing devices
In periods of reduced visibility or whenever a vessel operator needs to signal his or her intentions or position, a sound-producing device is essential. If on state waters, like Lake Lanier, vessels under 26 feet are not required to have such a device, but it is highly recommended, and many smaller boats come equipped with a horn.  Vessels larger than 26 feet must have a horn or whistle or other sound-producing devices. You want people to know where you are, especially at night or in fog.

Fire extinguishers
Most vessels are required to have a Type B fire extinguisher(s) on board, in serviceable condition, and readily available, not in a box hidden away in some compartment. Everyone onboard should know where they are located and how to use them. Fire has a tendency to come at you quickly and without warning. The size and number of fire extinguishers required varies with the size of your vessel. I was discussing this subject with an “old salt” at a dock on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway several years ago and he made a very profound statement which I never forgot: “You can’t have too many or too large fire extinguishers onboard, but you surely can have too few and too small ones.” Make sure the needle on the little round dial on the fire extinguisher is pointed in the “green” zone, indicating that it is ready for use.

Ventilation systems
The purpose of ventilation systems is to avoid explosions by removing flammable gases. All gasoline powered vessels must have at least two ventilation ducts fitted with cowls to remove fumes.  If your vessel is equipped with a power ventilation system, turn it on for at least four minutes both after fueling and before starting your engine. I make it a practice to lift the engine hatch cover and stick my nose in the engine compartment and give it a good “sniff.”

Backfire flame arrestors
Because boat engines may backfire, all powerboats (except outboards) fueled with gasoline must have a USCG approved backfire flame arrestor on each carburetor of every engine. Periodically clean the flame arrestor(s) and check for any damage. If your vessel has been in the shop for engine repair, check to ensure that the arrestor has been reseated.

Mufflers
Vessel operators may not hear sound signals or voices if the engine is not properly muffled.  The exhaust on every internal combustion engine used on any vessel must be muffled or baffled and water injected (except those engines where the exhaust goes through the lower unit or outdrive) so as to decrease noise.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers free Vessel Safety Checks where we check to ensure that your vessel has the proper required equipment and that it is in good working order, and we award you with a windshield decal for your vessel showing that you passed the check. There is no penalty for failing, and we will recheck your vessel after you’ve made correction.

February 2014 column

More information about navigation rules

In last month’s article I did a brief introduction to the importance of having knowledge of the navigation rules that govern the operation of our vessels on the water, and this month I would like to get into that subject a little deeper. The “Navigation Rules” handbook measures merely 7 inches by 6 inches but may be the most important maritime publication you can have on board your vessel.  

The manual contains the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea, 1972 (72 COLREGS). It also contains the Inland Navigational Rules, which were enacted by law in 1980 and became effective for all inland waters except the Great Lakes a year later. The Inland Rules became effective on the Great Lakes in 1983. Some differences do remain between the International and Inland Rules.  The side-by-side presentation of the rules in the publication will allow mariners to determine those differences based on where they operate their vessels.

In 1993, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted amendments to the COLREGS. These amendments became effective in 1995. The Coast Guard revised the Inland Navigational Rules to reflect the COLREGS amendments. Additionally, the Coast Guard has adopted several changes to the Inland Navigational Rules to bring those Rules into conformity with the COLREGS and to adopt recommendations from the Navigation Safety Advisory Council (NAVSAC).  The current edition of the publication includes all revisions through January 1, 1999.

With all that said, let’s take a look at what the COLREGS contain. There are 38 Rules of Navigation in the manual and they are listed under the following topics:

  • General Rules: Rules 1-3 covering Application, Responsibility and General Definitions.
  • Steering & Sailing Rules: Conduct of Vessels in Any Condition of Visibility: Rules 4-10.
  • Conduct of Vessels in Sight of One Another: Rules 11-18
  • Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility: Rule 19
  • Lights & Shapes: Rules 20-31
  • Sound & Light Signals: Rules 32-37
  • Exemptions: Rule 38

Contained in Annex V, Inland Pilot Rules, “Copy of Rules” is this statement: After 1 January 1983, the operator of each self-propelled vessel of 12 meters or more in length shall carry on board and maintain for ready reference a copy of the Inland Navigation Rules. In my opinion, it would be a good idea to have a copy on vessels of any size, since having knowledge of the rules is the whole idea.

The Penalty Provisions section contains various penalties for various violations, but, in general, violations of the Rules of Navigation subject the skipper to a fine of $5,000 for each violation.
In conclusion, it behooves the skipper to have knowledge of the Rules of Navigation and if your vessel meets the 12 meter criteria, have a copy on board. Copies are available at most boating supply stores and some marina stores and are available for a moderate price. It makes good reading during our cold weather season. Copies can also be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

Some aspects of the rules of navigation are covered in our safe boating courses offered at the Coast Guard Auxiliary Operations Center just outside the entrance to Aqualand Marina on Lights Ferry Road.


January 2014 column

2014 safe boating courses begin in February


As you read this article, the Atlanta Boat Show will be under way or on the verge of opening.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary will be located in booth # 244 in Hall “C” of the Georgia World Congress Center. We invite you to stop by and talk with our members about membership or almost any phase of recreational boating, including arranging for a free Vessel Safety Check. In addition, you can pick up a safe boating course schedule for 2014 being offered by Flotilla 22 Lake Allatoona and Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier. On a personal note, I knew absolutely nothing about the Coast Guard Auxiliary, even though I had been a boater for a number of years. After taking their course, I learned who they were and what they did, including their relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard. That was over 20 years ago, and I never regretted my decision to join.

Take a minute now and read the U.S. Coast Guard’s recreational boating accident statistics for 2012, the latest information available, then give thought to scheduling a one-day boating safety course in 2014.

  • 4,515 boating accidents
  • 651 deaths
  • 3,000 injuries
  • 71 percent of deaths due to drowning
  • 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket
  • 86 percent of deaths on boats where the operator had not taken a safe boating course
  • five top causes of accidents were operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed and alcohol use.

I was amused recently to read that a frequently used excuse given to law enforcement for speeding in an auto was “I was just keeping up with the flow of traffic.” The officer’s reply was “the flow of traffic is not necessarily the speed limit.”  Accidents/deaths on the water usually are followed by questions asked by law enforcement, and one of them could well be “have you taken a safe boating course?”  Please don’t be one of the 86 percent above.  

The courses vary some, but cover topics such as, but not limited to, “Know Your Boat, Before Getting Underway, Navigating the Waterways, Operating Your Vessel Safely, Boating’s Legal Requirements, Boating Emergencies, Enjoying Water Sports and Georgia Boating Laws.”

Successful completion of this course may result in a discount on your boat’s insurance premium that could easily be enough to cover the small fee for the course. Becoming a more knowledgeable skipper will make boating much more fun and relaxing and could bring a sense of “reassurance” to some of your guests!

Another good reason to take a course is because Maritime Law holds the skipper responsible for anything that happens on your vessel, even the conduct of your passengers. There are written navigation rules referred to as the “72 COLREGS” governing operation of boats in international and inland waters. If you violate any of these rules and cause a problem, you can be held accountable to these rules.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea to be familiar with the most common ones? The civil penalty that can be imposed for violation of these rules has been set at “not more than $5,000 for each violation.” We’re only asking you to spend one day and about $40 to make you a more knowledgeable and safer boater.


December 2013 column

Put the Atlanta Boat show on your January calendar


Cold weather is on the way and boats are being winterized. Next on your agenda should be the 52th  Annual Atlanta Boat Show, again being held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, January 9-12, 2014.  

One of the many things I really like about this boat show is the timing. It’s too cold to boat, unless you are a diehard fisherman, and football season is dwindling away. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is not performing safety patrols on area lakes unless special circumstances call for our presence. It’s a great time to gather up the family and take in a boat show, talking with the manufacturer’s representatives and the dealers, who are selling all kinds of vessels to suit the needs of anyone or any family. There are also booths where all kinds of boating gear will be offered, from electronics to life jackets. The Coast Guard Auxiliary will also have a booth which will be located at the rear of the building along with other booths. The U.S. Coast Guard will have their traveling exhibit in the front lobby as last year. By the way, it is important to choose the right type of boat for your needs, as we will discuss now.

Another thing you should know is that over 90 percent of the registered boats in the US are trailerable boats, meaning that their length usually does not exceed 26 feet and their weight is around 5,000-6,000 pounds. Vessels larger than that usually call for special towing rigs not available to the average family.  Boats come in many models, sizes, and types. Each serves a specific need. A boat developed for one purpose may serve poorly for another. Likewise, a boat that is safe in one set of conditions may not be safe for others. When you select a boat, be sure that it will suit your needs. Let’s look at the overall types of boats available.

Of course, we have sailing vessels, some even have engines!  Then we have other groups of boats known as utility boats, runabouts, cruisers, pontoon boats, houseboats, personal watercraft, (yes, they are also called boats), and others. These are the types most seen on area lakes and rivers.  If a family intends to host guests who are a little apprehensive about boating, a pontoon boat makes a great platform, offering room to walk around and generally slower in speed, offering a smoother ride.  If you plan to spend nights under the stars, you should look at the cabin cruisers, beginning around 24 feet. They usually accommodate two adults and two children.  Houseboats are “floating condos” and you can entertain the whole neighborhood! A fairly new addition to the boating line is the deck boat, which combines the space and openness of a pontoon boat with the speed through the water of a planning hull boats like runabouts or cruisers. Generally, there is no cabin space, also common to the pontoon boat. These boats have gained in popularity over the past few years.

That’s about as far as we can go with this, but for you first time boat owners, I hope this overview will help. One last thought: it’s a good idea to have a way to keep one or all of your passengers out of the sun, and sometimes out of the rain. This calls for a “hardtop” cover or a canvas top, sometimes referred to as a “Bimini” top. The latter type can be folded down when not wanted. You can also add clear vinyl enclosure to further protect you from the elements.

And please visit the booths that feature equipment for your boat.  This will be a great time to consider a VHF marine radio if you don’t  have one. The Coast Guard does not recommend a cell phone as your only means of communication. If you have room on your dashboard, and the location is fairly protected from rain, we recommend the mounted type. The transmitting power is 25 watts. If your boat is a smaller version with no room for a mounted radio, you may want to consider a handheld VHF radio. Transmitting power is 5-6 watts, which will get you out several miles, and usually sufficient for Lake Lanier.

See you at the show, and please drop by our booth for free Georgia Boating Regulations, safe boating literature covering a multitude of marine subjects and information on safe boating courses being offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary throughout the majority of the State of Georgia.


November 2013 column

Fall boating brings fun, cautionary advice


November can be a great time to take the family and friends out for a day of recreational boating, picnicking, leaf viewing and generally having a great time. Air temperatures are just right to brisk and water temps are still in the moderate range. At the time of the writing of this article, Lake Lanier is slightly above normal pool, a rare occurrence this time of year.  While recreational boating slows down during November and December, fishermen and some boaters with heated cabins will still find their way out on the water for a day of relaxation and fun.

Boating accident statistics give us a warning, however, about boating during October, November and December. I have access to U.S. Coast Guard boating accident statistics for 2012, and they give us reason to be concerned. Trauma, drowning and hypothermia continue to rank 1, 2 and 3 as causes of death. The highest percentage of accidents resulting in death occurred in October (25 percent), November (22 percent) and December (26 percent). The other nine months ranged from 11 percent to 27 percent (February).  

Hypothermia is not “freezing to death,” nor is it “frostbite,” and it can kill at temperatures well above freezing. To give you an idea of how much time you have if you fall overboard when the water temperature drops, consider this: water temperature 50-60 degrees, unconsciousness can occur in 1-2 hours, death 1-6 hours. If water temperature is 40-50 degrees, unconsciousness can occur in 30-60 minutes, death 1-3 hours. If you plan to be on the water this fall and winter, there are things you can do to prevent hypothermia.

Tips:
• Try to avoid boating alone. It’s nice to have help in emergencies.
• Avoid situations that promote loss of body heat. Stay dry and out of the cold wind.
• Wear your life jacket, since it will help keep preserve body heat, and in the event you fall overboard you will be better able to return to the boat.  
• Proper clothing makes a big difference. Wool clothing is much better than synthetics.
• Have a blanket or two on board to warm anyone who may need them, whether or not anyone falls overboard.

Remember, too, that there will probably not be many other boaters around you during this time of the year, meaning “good Samaritans” will be scarce. Should you find yourself in the position of rescuing someone who possibly is suffering from hypothermia, keep this in mind: their energy resources are minimal. Have them do as little as possible to help you in their rescue.  They may deplete what energy reserves they have left.  Hypothermic people have died after rescue because of their exertion during the rescue.

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