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USCGA column

Are PWCs really more dangerous than boats?

Most of us who cruise around Lake Lanier have had occasions when, seemingly out of nowhere, comes a PWC, measuring us for a wake jump or determining if they can cross our bow without getting run down. My opinion of these things has been that they are noise makers, scooting around like water bugs, interrupting what would otherwise be a nice day on the lake.  However, we do use them in our Auxiliary safety and regatta patrols.

Each year, starting in May, we observe National Safe Boating Week, when a number of marine organizations join together in recognizing and promoting safe recreational boating practices and urging boaters to wear a life jacket while on the water. As Public Affairs Officer for Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier, I am supplied with countless statistics relating to boating accidents and deaths and what could be done to prevent some of this carnage on the water. We see our share of this on Lake Lanier as our lake becomes more crowded, particularly on weekends and holidays.

One of the things that stands out when reviewing boating accident statistics is the large percentage of PWC accidents relative to the small percentage PWCs represent of the total number of boats. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, PWCs are involved in 30 percent of all reported boating accidents and 36 percent of all boating injuries take place on PWCs. The National Marine Manufacturers Association states that PWCs represent only nine percent of all registered vessels, making them appear to be more dangerous.

So what’s going on here? Are they a more dangerous vessel than other types of boats, or are there other factors? Well, maybe both.  Certainly they handle differently.  They are quick and agile and can turn on a dime. PWCs don’t have brakes (though some are now claiming to have a breaking system) and can take up to 300 feet to stop from 60 mph. They have very limited slow-speed maneuverability and nearly no maneuverability at high speeds when the throttle is suddenly closed. Since these craft are able to turn much sharper and faster than a typical boat, the forces generated can and do throw the operator into the water. There has been some improvement in newer models that have devices that assist off-throttle steering.

When you look at other accident factors like PWC operators, startling information immediately surfaces. According to “Seaworthy,” the BOAT/US marine insurance and damage avoidance report, “a large percentage of PWC accidents involved inexperienced riders.  USCG statistics bear this out as well. Most accidents involve operators in the 11-20 year old age group. According to the accident claim files, owners were involved in only 18 percent of the accidents, owner’s siblings (29 percent), and friends (53 percent).” It is apparent that these vessels are looked upon more as “toys,” that you might share, than as boats, subject to the same marine laws as other vessels.  In addition, according to a National Transportation and Safety Board report, “roughly 84 percent of PWC accidents involved operators who had no boating safety education or instruction. In fact, 73 percent had been riding less than an hour when their accident occurred.  Forty-eight percent of those injured had never operated a PWC or had done so only once.”

A new Georgia law originating on July 1, 2014, states that “any person born after January 1, 1998, must have completed a boat education course approved by the DNR before he or she may legally operate a motorized vessel on Georgia state waters.”

For those of you riding in a boat other than a PWC, keep a watch at all times while underway, for the PWC in your vicinity may be operated by a limited experienced rider, or worse, a first time rider, on a “loaner”! For PWCs operators who may be reading this article, if you have not taken a safe boating course offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, I urge you to get lined up with one as soon as possible by contacting: Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier at (770) 393-4382 or http://a0700204.uscgaux.info.


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



Safe boating course set for February 13


Flotilla 29 of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Lake Lanier, announces a one-day, seven-lesson  “About Boating Safely” course.  The course is scheduled for Saturday, February 13, 2016. This course also serves as a PWC certified course  for  children  under  the age of 16. This course will be given at the Coast Guard Auxiliary Operations Center, 6595 Lights Ferry Rd., Flowery Branch, Ga., on the left just before the entrance to Aqualand Marina. Classes run from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and cost is $35.  Discounts available for additional family members.    

Course contents include:
  • Know your boat
  • Before getting underway
  • Navigating the waterways
  • Operating your vessel safely
  • Boating’s legal requirements
  • Boating emergencies
  • Enjoying watersports
  • State of Georgia regulations

State law now requires any person born after January 1, 1998, must have completed a boater education course approved by the Ga. DNR before he or she may legally operate a motorized vessel on Georgia state waters. Successful completion of this course may result in a reduction in your boat’s insurance premium.

More info and registration: Ricky Ashe, Public Education Officer, Flotilla 29 • 770 833-8935 • flotilla29pe@gmail.com


January 2016 column

2016 Safe Boating classes 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 2016 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 2014, the latest information available, then give thought to scheduling a one-day boating safety course in 2016.
  • 4,060 boating accidents
  • 610 deaths
  • 2,620 injuries
  • 78 percent of deaths due to drowning
  • 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket
  • 77 percent of deaths on boats where the operator had not taken a safe boating course
  • five top causes of accidents in order were operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, 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 77 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 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. 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 $35 to make you a more knowledgeable and safer boater.

These Coast Guard Auxiliary courses begin in February  at Lake Lanier. To get signed up for the February 13 course please see the safe boating course announcement below.


December 2015 column

Visit the USCGA at the 54th Atlanta Boat Show

Cold weather is here and boats are being winterized. Next on your agenda should be the huge 54th  Annual Atlanta Boat Show, again being held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on January 14-17, 2016. It’s a great place to speak with manufacturer’s representatives concerning boats, marine equipment, fishing accessories and other miscellaneous fun things.

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.

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 10’x10’ booths. By the way, it is important to choose the right type of boat for your needs.

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 are generally slower in speed, offering a smoother ride.

If you plan to spend some nights under the stars, you should look at 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 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.


November 2015 column

Fall equals fun on the lake with fewer crowds

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 the fall, fishermen and some boaters will still find their way out on the water for a day of relaxation and fun. The Coast Guard Auxiliary closes its Operation Center at the end of September, so we will not be monitoring radio traffic until next May.

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 2014, and they give us reason to be concerned. Trauma, drowning and hypothermia continue to rank one, two and three as causes of death on the water. The highest percentage of accidents resulting in death occurred in October (17 percent), November (20 percent) and December (19 percent). The other nine months ranged from 11 percent to 20 percent (April.).  

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 on your boat 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 14-17, 2016.  We will again be located in the rear of the exhibit area where the 10’x10’ 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 course schedules for 2016 will be available for many of the flotillas in north Georgia.


October 2015 column

Last chance to take USCGA safe boating course in 2015

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is offering its last state approved safe boating course of the year on Saturday, October 10. We encourage those of you who have not yet taken our course to enroll now and join over 200 Lake Lanier recreational boaters who have completed our courses this year.
Please see the announcement and procedure to follow for enrollment elsewhere on this page.

Topics that will be covered are all pertinent to safe operation of your boat on our lakes and rivers, and include subjects such as:
  • Know Your Boat
  • Before Getting Underway
  • Navigating the Waterways
  • Operating Your Boat Safely
  • Boating’s Legal Requirements
  • Boating Emergencies
  • Enjoying Water Sports
  • 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. More importantly, 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 boat, even the conduct of your passengers. There are written navigational rules referred to as the “72” COLREGS” governing operation of boats on 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 more 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 that you spend one day in a classroom with other recreational boaters, have a good time and add valuable information to your boating experience.


September 2015 column

Commander's interview offers insight into boating safety basics

These monthly articles appearing in Lakeside on Lanier newspaper usually point out established boating safety tips that are taught in our public education courses along with annual accident statistics compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The purpose is and always has been prevention of boating accidents and deaths by pointing out events that can lead up to such accidents. The vast majority of these articles deal with boating on our rivers and inland lakes such as Lanier. This month we will be looking at recreational boating problems through the eyes of a Coast Guard Station Commander in Florida who did a recent interview with a writer for Power and Motoryacht magazine, August 2015 edition.

The interviewer asked the commander, “What do you see boaters doing today that really frustrates you most?” The officer said he immediately thought of one of the deadliest accidents in Miami-Dade County history on July 4th which occurred when a 32-foot boat broadsided another boat after a fireworks display. Alcohol was believed to be a factor in the crash that claimed four lives and left others severely injured. When he got to the accident scene to assist, he found lifejackets packed underneath the seats, some of which were still in their plastic coverings. Two of the bodies found the next day were not wearing life jackets. He likened the situation to the equivalent of planning to put on your automobile seatbelt after an accident. He said he had seen too many accidents where people had the safety equipment on the boat but they weren’t using it or wearing it properly.  

The commander also stated that in his opinion one of the most important pieces of safety equipment is something that isn’t on the boat: it’s a float plan, a written document left with someone on shore telling them such things as time of departure and estimated time of return, where they plan to go, boat identification, number of people onboard, cell phone number, etc. If the boat departs a marina, the float plan could be left with the dock master. When the skipper returns, they should notify the dock master that they are back. If they do go missing, the dock master will attempt to contact you, then notify the Coast Guard and relay the information, making a search and rescue mission much easier.  

Regarding onboard emergencies and how to be prepared for them, the commander rated this one of his “pet peeves.” He went on to say that people should not expect the kind of response time on the water as they do on land. “If you are 20 miles offshore and call “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday,” getting a Coast Guard boat there in 15 minutes is not a realistic expectation.” A nearby “good Samaritan” is probably your best bet for assistance, but you need to prepare for such emergencies such as knowing first aid, having a first aid kit onboard and knowing how to use it can save a life. If someone onboard has a chronic health problem, the skipper should be sure the proper medicine is also onboard. No one leaves the dock thinking that they will be the next accident, but that possibility should be considered. The commander stated that on all his post-rescue interviews, the common theme is they didn’t think it could happen to them. “Since I spend my life on the water, my motto is Semper Paratus, always prepared.”

If you happen to be the Good Samaritan, your primary responsibility is to be a “clear conduit of information,” since many times the boater in distress is so frantic they cannot communicate clearly. The Good Samaritan can radio for help saying “this is my position and this is what I see” before offering aid.

Boating distresses on lakes like Lanier and Allatoona and offshore can be very similar, and proper preparation and planning can go a long way in reducing the severity of these problems on the water.


August 2015 column

USCGA seeks new members with boats

When the average person thinks of the U.S. Coast Guard, they probably first think of rescues at sea involving the use of Coast Guard boats or helicopters. When the recreational boater thinks of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the first thing that may come to mind is safe boating courses offered by the Auxiliary, or maybe our Vessel Safety Check program. A few (whom we have helped on the water) may think of our safety or regatta patrols that are performed on area lakes, primarily from May through September, weekends and holidays.

We operate our own vessels, which now range in size from around 18’ to 32’. Due to recent retirements and transfers we are looking for recreational boaters who are owners of vessels within that approximate size and who might want to investigate the benefits of membership in the largest volunteer arm of any of the branches of the military, currently around 30,000 strong.

Part of our expenses incurred while performing patrols, such as fuel, oil, etc., are reimbursed by the Coast Guard. A new member with a vessel will have to become qualified as “crewman” before they can participate in surface operations.  As a crewman, they can operate their vessel under Coast Guard orders with a “Coxswain” aboard, acting as vessel commander. The new member then can become Coxswain qualified and command their vessel with at least one Crewman aboard.

The Auxiliary maintains an Operations Center at Lake Lanier with VHF radios monitoring communications on the lake. A qualified “Radio Watchstander” mans the radios during patrol hours and communicates to the “duty vessel” if a situation is reported where assistance is needed. At this time in our lives, the Coast Guard has taken on additional responsibilities and has turned over to the Auxiliary the primary responsibility for recreational boating safety. We teach it and we practice it. After completing one of our boating courses, the new member will undergo training leading to surface operations where they use their vessel, equipped with the Coast Guard Auxiliary required items. While under “orders” the vessel is acting as a Coast Guard vessel, but without the law enforcement responsibility which is primarily provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

What a great time to make a contribution to our country by being a member of Team Coast Guard, now a component of the Department of Homeland Security.  It is also an excellent way to meet fine people with an interest in boating, and have a good time while doing it. Membership is open to U.S. citizens, 17 years old or older. We have many husband/wife teams who are members. Get in touch with us and we will answer any questions you may have, and we will invite you to one of our monthly meetings where you can get a feel for what we do and initiate the membership process if you decide to join our great organization.


July 2015 column

Paddlesports are a growing recreational activity on Lanier

Generally speaking, paddlesports includes the use of canoes, kayaks, rafts, and stand up paddleboards, and you may see any of these on Lake Lanier these days.  You may ask yourself why is the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary concerning itself with these kinds of watercrafts, and the answer is that the Coast Guard in 2008 deemed these watercraft are just as much a “vessel” as a 26-foot cruiser or a 60-foot houseboat, and are subject to rules of operation as are other vessels. (Title 1 United States Code, Section 3.) The Auxiliary has been charged with recreational boating safety by the Coast Guard.

According to the American Canoe Association (ACA), “paddling is a great way to access nature, experience reflective moments and enjoy family and friends away from the distractions of life.” Conflicts often arise between various boating groups because of craft size, education and training of the operators, maneuverability, geographic constraints and the sheer numbers of recreational users of the waterways.  Paddlers do need to be aware of a few of the “Rules of the Road” when sharing resources with other marine traffic. Importantly, keep a proper lookout. Remember, too, to be courteous to other boaters and law enforcement officers. They’re there to help you to be safe and have fun!

Americans enjoyed paddlesports in 2012 (the latest published data I could find), and, in fact, more than 6 percent of Americans participated in paddling – totaling more than 19 million individuals. On average, each paddler took seven trips a year, contributing to 202 million annual paddling outings. Around the Atlanta area you will see various forms of paddlecraft on lakes Lanier and Allatoona, as well as on the Chattahoochee River.

The ACA offers 10 top safety tips for paddlesports enthusiasts:

  • Take an on-the-water course
  • Wear your lifejacket
  • Practice cold water safety
  • Know the rules of the road
  • Safety checks
  • Be aware of practices, ethics and conduct
  • Know your limits
  • River Paddler’s Guide to Rescue
  • Best practices for paddlers and Paddlesports programs
  • Trip preparation and planning

As you might expect, paddlecraft accidents and fatalities do occur and are on the increase, simply due to increased participation by the public. The ACA reports data from 1987 through 2013, and fatalities have increased from 80 to 140 during that time period. No indication of overall accident data was given.


June 2015 column

When guests com aboard special precautions are in order

We’ve just finished up our 2015 National Safe Boating Week and are in the middle of Memorial Day events which involve parades and special church and city’s memorial tributes to our fallen servicemen and women. It is certainly a time to reflect and take time to consider the benefits we enjoy due to their sacrifices over the years.

As I plan these monthly articles, I usually have as a goal discussing safe boating practices for the recreational boater, the mission assigned by the U.S. Coast Guard to the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Boating alone can be fun, but inviting friends and neighbors is also a common practice. I recently read an article in a marine publication that prompted me to want to cover this subject, since accidents to guests can have a major impact on the boat’s skipper.

When you about to leave the dock with your guests aboard, you are usually thinking about getting underway or where you will have lunch, and not thinking about the legal ramifications and responsibilities as “skipper and master” of your vessel. I was also reminded in the article that “the question of liability is both simple and complex, steeped in more than 3,000 years of maritime legal principles dating back to the Phoenicians.”

Admiralty law, like land-based legal concepts, begins with the premise that a property owner owes his invited guests a duty to exercise ordinary or “reasonable care” for the safety of the guests. “Reasonable care” can get complicated while on a boat, docking a boat, getting on and off a boat that is bobbing about, or one with slippery decks after a rain, for instance. It also has to do with the experience level of the skipper and the boating experience level of the guests. It also has to do with whether the boat owner knew of some physical limitation of the guests such as bad back, poor eyesight, age, etc.

Having said all that, this does not require that the boat be “accident proof.” Under the law, the applicable standard of care requires that the boat owner provide a boat that is reasonably safe, not one that is absolutely safe. A guest also has some responsibility to exercise care for their own safety. The article gave an example of an accident that resulted in a legal claim being filed by the guest against the boat owner when the guest stepped onto the dock when the boat rocked slightly causing him to fall and fracture his wrist. The two had been friends for years and the owner was not prepared for what happened next.  

The injured man got an attorney who filed suit, claiming the skipper “failed to secure the boat adequately to prevent excessive rocking.”  In addition, the attorney said the defendant “failed to provide his passengers with a proper and safe way to exit the boat, instruct them in this method, and see that they received any assistance they might need.” Finally, the man had been drinking, a fact that has the potential to muddle any lawsuit. The jury awarded the guest $37,500, but found that the injured guest had been 40 percent comparatively negligent and the skipper had been 60 percent at fault, and his insurance policy paid $22,500 on his behalf. The article went on to say that an additional $16,784 was paid to the attorney who defended the case. After the plaintiff’s attorney was paid his portion and the health insurance carrier’s lien was paid, the plaintiff received $8,500. It is reported that the skipper and the guest are no longer friends!

So does all this want you to leave the dock alone and never ask friends and neighbors to join you for an afternoon of boating?  Maybe not, but if this article causes you to take stock of how you handle your guests, prepare them for the cruise, and pay a little more attention to their welfare, then it was worth my writing and your reading.


May 2015 column

National Safe Boating Week set for May 16-22

National Safe Boating Week is a great way to kick off what will be a fun and safe summer on the water.  We’re asking boaters to pay extra attention to their boating safety behaviors, and to especially always wear their life jackets.  

Remember, even the most experienced boaters fall victim to boating accidents. In 2013, Coast Guard Boating Accident Statistics show that there were 560 boating fatalities in the U.S., a decrease of 198 over the previous year, and 398 people drowned, and of those, 85 percent were not wearing a life jacket. On top of that, 86 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had not taken a boating safety course. One-half of the fatalities occurred in open motorboats.

Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.  Alcohol use was the leading contributor to fatal boating accidents.  It figures. Alcohol use can easily lead to operator inattention, excessive speed and lack of an appointed lookout.

It has been my personal experience that while performing safety patrols on Lake Lanier, and even while towing a disabled vessel, my boat was almost rammed by another boat while the skipper was doing who knows what. They certainly were not looking where they were going. Under new Georgia boating laws, the alcohol concentration considered intoxication has been lowered from 0.1 to .08, the same that applies to automobiles.

Today’s life jackets are a far cry from the ones available when I began boating years ago. They are much more comfortable, look better and are not as hot. Inflatable jackets are also available and when not inflated they resemble a set of suspenders. When you hit the water, you can pull a little cord and inflate the jacket. Some can be purchased that inflate themselves when you enter the water. Carbon dioxide cartridges begin the inflation process. Georgia Law requires that “all children under 13 years of age wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD (personal flotation device) while on board any moving vessel. This law does not apply when the child is in a fully enclosed cabin.”

It is a well established fact that recreational boaters who have completed a boating education course are, by far, safer boaters and enjoy boating much more since they have learned the “rules of the road” and many other safe boating practices.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary at Lake Lanier gives a one-day (Saturday) boating course at its Operations Center just before the entrance to Aqualand Marina on Lights Ferry Road, Flowery Branch.  Announcements of the course schedule are printed monthly in this newspaper and in others around the lake. We also place posters in all the marinas, boat dealers and other marine businesses.

It is my hope that those who read this article make a conscious effort to take safe boating more seriously. No one leaves the dock expecting to have an accident, but they do happen, and at an alarming rate. Wearing a life jacket and becoming a more informed boater will enhance your chances of not becoming one of these sad statistics.


April 2015 column

Now is the time to get your free safety check

When was the last time you got anything worthwhile that was truly free? What about getting something free that could save your life or keep you out of trouble with law enforcement? The Vessel Safety Check program helps to achieve voluntary compliance with federal, state and local recreational boating safety laws, particularly regarding the carriage of safety equipment, and has been around since 1947. It was introduced as a “free” service and it still is. It also heightens the boaters’ awareness of safety issues through one-on-one contact by Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel examiners.

This time of the year, recreational boaters are thinking boating again. Many of these vessels have been in “mothballs” for months, or more professionally referred to as having been “winterized.” Now is the perfect time to consider contacting a Coast Guard Auxiliarist who is a qualified “Vessel Examiner” and setting up a time for the safety check. We have 17 certified vessel examiners working on and around Lake Lanier, and our examiners are prepared to come to your home or dock at a time convenient to you. During 2012, our team examined 279 vessels on Lake Lanier. That number rose to 553 in 2014, attesting to the popularity of the program.

This service is not a vessel “survey,” but is a comprehensive check of all the safety features of your vessel and also a check of all the equipment and safety requirements dictated by state and federal law.  Remember, too, that there is no penalty if your vessel fails for one reason or another. After you make the correction, we will recheck your vessel and issue you our windshield decal, indicating that your vessel has passed our inspection. Law enforcement on state waters in Georgia are aware of our Vessel Safety Check program and recognize the decal.

Following is a list of the items we check:
  • Proper Display of Numbers.  State laws are very specific about just how this is done and, yet, it is one of the most ignored processes we see.
  • Registration/documentation.  Proof of ownership and/or compliance with state registration must be onboard.
  • Personal Flotation Devices.  There must be an adequate number on board, they must be serviceable, must fit the wearer, and must be Coast Guard approved.
  • Visual Distress Signals. You must be able to attract attention when needed.
  • Fire Extinguishers. There must be an adequate number and correct size on board as dictated by the size of your vessel, and they must be fully operable.
  • Ventilation. Applies to inboard engines and inboard-outboard (stern drive) types of propulsion.
  • Backfire Flame Control. This is a factory installed mechanism that sits atop your carburetor and prevents flames, caused by engine backfiring, from entering your engine compartment.
  • Sound Producing Devices. You must have sufficient capacity to make noise to attract attention based on the size of your vessel.
  • Navigation Lights. They must be adequate for your vessel, placed properly, and must work. If you have a practice of always boating during daylight hours, in sunshine, you may never turn them on to see if they actually function properly.
  • State and local requirements
  • Overall Vessel Condition. Is the vessel “seaworthy” or are there some problems that really stand out that could prove to be a risk for the occupants?

This is also a great time for the skipper to ask questions of the Auxiliarist dealing with marine issues, Coast Guard Auxiliary programs, and the like. We will also discuss with you other issues such as reporting of accidents, charts and aids to navigation, survival tips, fueling/fuel management, float plans, weather and sea conditions, value of marine radios (handheld and installed), and safe boating courses available in the area.

As you can see, there’s really more to this business of recreational boating than meets the eye. You can buy and run a boat without training, but it is not a wise thing to do. When the weather is perfect and few boats are on the water, most anyone could operate a boat, but when things are not perfect, and they rarely are, your knowledge and experience can save your life and the lives of your “precious cargo.”


March 2015 column

Lightning facts: Which boats are most likely to be struck

If you are a member of BoatUS and have your vessel insured by them, you may have seen the article on “Striking Lightning Facts” that appeared in the January 2015 issue of Seaworthy, their insurance publication. Their insurance division keeps tabs on lightning strike claims, and have accumulated quite a few facts we boaters may want to review.

On average, one in a million people gets struck by lightning in any given year, but an analysis of 10 years of lightning claims data from the Boat US Marine Insurance files have found that about one in a thousand boats has a lightning claim each year. Now that should get the attention of us mariners who love to be out on the water between the months of June through September, the top months for fast moving and violent thunderstorms. We’ve all been there and know the uneasy feeling we get.

The data also shows that when it comes to lightning, not all boats are created equal. Some boats are significantly more at risk than others. Any boat can be hit, even personal watercraft, but boats with a high metal pole reaching up to the sky is vastly more likely to be a target. Consider the following data based on claims data from 2003-2013:

Type of Boat             Chances per 1,000
Multihull Sailboat                   6.9
Monohull Sailboat                  3.8   
Trawler/Motoryacht               1.5
Bass, Runabout, Pontoon     0.1

Boat size                   Chances per 1,000
 0-15 Feet                               0
16-25 Feet                           0.2
26-39 Feet                           2.1
40-64 Feet                           6.0

So, if you’ve got a 50 foot multihull sailboat with a metal mast in the center of the boat, you’re in the top of the lightning strike risk bracket.

Six of our top 10 states in terms of the frequency of lightning claims are in the southeastern United States, and Georgia is not one of them. That should make you large vessel multihull sailboat skippers feel a bit better.

In summary, if you have a sailboat in a lightning hot spot, especially if it has two hulls, you are more at risk than average. What can you do about it? The general consensus is, you can’t do much to keep your boat from being struck. It’s the ultimate act of God. Remember, though God seems to have it in for sailboats and doubly so for multihulls. There are lightning protection systems available that can help minimize the damage if your boat does get struck.


February 2015 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).

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 t
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