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Sep. 18, 2014
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USCGA 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

USCGA safe boating course

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, September 13, 2014. This course also serves as a PWC certified course for children  under the age of 16. The event will take place at the Coast Guard Operations Center, 6995 Lights Ferry Rd., Flowery Branch, on the left just before the entrance to Aqualand Marina.

Classes run from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Cost is $40. Discounts are available for additional family members.

Course contents include:

  • Know Your Boat
  • Before You Get Underway
  • Navigating the Waterways
  • Operating Your Vessel Safely
  • Legal Requirements of boating
  • Boating Emergencies
  • Enjoying Watersports
  • Georgia Regulations

“Beginning July 1, 2014, 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.” (Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws & Responsibility)

Successful completion of this course may result in a reduction in your boat’s insurance premium.  

For additional information and information on registering for this course, please contact: Sara Snyder, Public Education Officer, at (770) 841-8388 or

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. 

Roy Crittenden is Public Affairs Officer for Flotilla 29.
More info: Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier, 770-393-4382,,

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:

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.

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.

• 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 12-15, 2012.  We hope to again be located in the lobby area of the Georgia World Congress Center next to the Coast Guard traveling exhibit, 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.

October 2013 column

Last chance this year to take a USCGA Safe Boating Course

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is offering its last safe boating course of the year on October 12.  Why not enroll now and join the over 200 Lake Lanier recreational boaters who have completed our courses this year. See the announcement and procedure to follow for enrollment elsewhere on this page.

This month’s column is about Life Jackets. BORING! Besides, you know everything there is to know about them, right? Let’s find out. Take this quiz, then we’ll talk.

Answer the following, true or false:
  1. Most boating fatalities occur at sea.
  2. Most boating fatalities happen to women, minorities, and children under 18.
  3. Most boating fatalities occur in bad weather.
  4. Most boating fatalities are from bodily injuries, due to a collision.
  5. Most boating fatalities happen to inexperienced boaters.
  6. The law only requires that you have one life jacket per person on board.
  7. It is OK to put a child in an adult life jacket but not vice versa.
  8. Most all boat-related drownings occur because there weren’t enough life jackets on board.
  9. The law views an inflatable life jacket the same as a regular life jacket.
  10. A floatable seat cushion counts as a life jacket.

Most boating fatalities happen to white males, ages 18-34, with boating experience. They occur on lakes, streams, and inland waters more than the ocean, and in boats under 16 feet, in calm seas and good weather. Seventy percent of all boating fatalities are from drowning, and in 90 percent of the fatalities, the victim was not wearing a life jacket.

Drownings are most likely to occur when a person enters the water unexpectedly from a boat capsizing or from a fall. When this happens, there is no time to grab a life jacket and the trauma of such an event creates sufficient shock and disorientation to prevent even good swimmers from saving themselves.

The law requires that each individual on board have a properly sized and fitted Coast Guard approved life jacket (other than Type IV) that is in good condition. Boats 16 feet or larger also must carry a throwable (Type IV) floatation device (such as a cushion or ring). Life jackets are generally labeled as “infant,” “child,” “youth,” or “adult,” but more importantly show the weight range of the person they were designed to support (e.g. less than 30 pounds, 30-50, less than 90, etc.). It is more important that the jacket fit and match the weight range, rather than the age range. It is also vital that a child is securely fitted in a jacket that they can not slip out of.

Life jackets now come in a wide variety of styles, colors, and types. These include life jackets, vests, coats, deck suits, and inflatables. The Coast Guard designates them by type (I, II, III, IV, and V) according to their style and buoyancy. Briefly summarized: Type I is for off-shore, providing more buoyancy and support for the head; Type II is for inshore boating; Type III is for calm water conditions, but unlike I & II, will not turn an unconscious person’s face out of the water; Type IV is a throwable device; and Type V is a special use device, such as a floatation coat, work vest, or deck suit. Which is best? The one that is designed for your conditions and is comfortable enough for you to wear while onboard! A life jacket on board doesn’t do you any good, when you are in the water.

The law states that life jackets must be readily available (not in plastic or stowed under other gear) and throwable devices must be immediately available (not in a locker) when underway. Inflatable life jackets (w/CO2 cartridges) must be worn in order to be counted. (Remember that when submerged, they are designed to inflate. If this happens inside a locker of a capsized boat, they could restrict removal and access to all other life jackets.)

Wearing a life jacket is a state law for some activities, such as skiing, tubing, riding a PWC, white water paddling, and sail-boarding. In Georgia, all children under 13 years old must wear a properly fitting life jacket when riding in an unconfined portion of the boat.

So how did you do? The answers to the quiz were all false. So what did you learn? Select the right life jacket. Wear it. Be safe.

September 2013 column

Five top excuses not to wear a life jacket

For a number of years the events surrounding the promotion of National Safe Boating Week (observed in May of each year) have stressed the wearing of life jackets by recreational boaters at all times while under way.  Consider for a moment the reasoning behind that strategy. According to Coast Guard boating accident statistics for 2011, there were 533 drownings in the U.S., and 84 percent (415) were not wearing a life jacket. The great majority of time, when boating accidents occur, entry into the water is unexpected, providing no time to grab a life jacket. If we have an individual in the water with perhaps a head injury or some other type of injury, that makes it difficult to swim, even if they knew how.  

Here are more sobering facts about life jacket wear according to the Coast Guard Life Jacket Wear Rate Observation Study done in 2012:
  • Adults in open motorboats – 5 percent were wearing a life jacket
  • All boaters excluding PWC boaters- 18 percent were wearing a life jacket
  • Youthful boaters (17 and younger) – 67.5 percent were wearing a life jacket.

As you know, in Georgia children younger than 13 are required by law to wear a life jacket if in the open cockpit of a boat. With statistics like this, one has to wonder why more people don’t automatically put on a life jacket upon leaving the dock. Well, someone asked many of them why they did not do so, and according to the National Safe Boating Council who did the survey, here were the top five reasons given:
  1. “I have life jackets on board.”  Having life jackets on board the vessel is not enough. Accidents happen too fast to put on a stowed life jacket.
  2. “I’m a strong swimmer.” Even a strong swimmer needs to wear a life jacket. During an emergency, clothing can become heavy or waterlogged while in the water.
  3. “It’s too hot and doesn’t look cool.” Old fashioned, bulky orange life jackets have been replaced with new styles, like inflatable life jackets that may resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack. These are much cooler in the warmer weather.
  4. “It gets in the way.” There are life jacket styles available for any recreational water activity – fishing, water sports, hunting, paddling and more. There are even styles for pets!
  5. “Nothing is going to happen to me.” Face it, accidents happen.  Boating can be a fun, safe and enjoyable activity, but when the “Wear It” message is ignored, the consequences can be grim.

Just ask Richard VanDermark, an experienced boater and a navigation officer in Orange County, New York, about the importance of life jacket wear. VanDermark recalls the day he went tubing with his family in 2011 when he slipped while helping his grandson onto the boat, hitting his head and falling into the water. Thanks to wearing his life jacket, his son-in-law quickly pulled him out of the water and performed CPR. “There is no doubt in my mind that my life jacket saved my life. No matter how good a swimmer you are, you never know what will happen when you’re boating,” said VanDermark.  “Always wear your life jacket.”

Inflatable life jackets have been authorized for wear by Coast Guard Auxiliarists and can be bought in the Atlanta area for less than $100, much less than when originally introduced.

August 2013 column

Taking on water requires swift, proper, corrective action

Some months ago I read an article dealing with a sinking situation calling for quick and correct action to save the day. My mind spun back to the middle 1990s when I bought a 10-year-old, 38-foot Californian motor yacht from a guy in Jacksonville who had it tied up at his condo on the St. Johns River.  As part of the deal I had a survey done by a reputable marine surveyor in the area. A few days later I reviewed his recommendations and was satisfied that the boat was seaworthy with no alarming deficiencies that could not be corrected when I got the boat back to Savannah. The deal was finalized, and I had the minor problems fixed in Savannah at Thunderbolt where I planned to keep the boat.

A few weeks later my wife and I returned to Savannah with plans to take a cruse up the ICW to North Carolina to visit friends. We departed Savannah for the short trip to Hilton Head Island as our next major destination. As we rounded Daufuskie Island and entered Calibogue Sound where you can see the lighthouse at Harbour Town Marina, the boat seemed a bit sluggish with the bow a bit lower than usual. I sent my wife below to check around and a few seconds later she returned to the fly bridge with the unnerving news that “water was everywhere.”  I had no idea where it was coming from but I knew quick action was called for. We put on life jackets and I issued a “May Day” call on the marine radio. Coast Guard Station Tybee immediately answered and began asking a multitude of questions. I thanked them and told them I was pretty busy with a sinking boat and I would get back to them. I was not about to lose a boat I had just bought! 

Broad Creek was within sight on my starboard side and I headed for the little entrance to the creek and eased the boat up on the shore.  There was a falling tide. The twin 3208 Caterpillars were still hammering away, almost covered in water by this time. Within minutes a TowBoat US vessel was beside me and the operator came aboard and we found that an engine water intake hose had broken on the port engine, so I shut it down and the water ceased. After an hour or so his portable pumps had cleared the engine room of water and with one engine I backed the boat off the oyster shells and proceeded up the creek to a marina where we stayed a day or so getting things back in order.

Long story, but these things do happen, and they can happen to boats of all sizes, and we see it often on Lake Lanier. One needs to plan for such an eventuality. With your boat in mind think about the most likely ports of entry for water.  The stern plug might be your first thought. If you ever take the plug out while it is on your trailer, always leave it in the boat where you can find it. Engine cooling system hoses with double clamps need checking during the boating season. Replace hoses that are suspect.  Inspect all through hull fittings at least annually for leakage and general condition. From time to time turn on your bilge pumps and check for that beautiful hum they make. Have a bucket or hand pump on board for your use or for helping out a fellow boater. Hand pumps with a 5-6 foot hose are a cheap investment and are available at marine supply stores.

In summary, if you find yourself with unwanted water on board, have everyone put on life jackets, put out a call for help on your marine radio, either handheld on mounted. What! You haven’t bought that radio yet! Try to find the source of the leak, make sure your bilge pumps are pumping, get someone busy bailing or pumping water out by hand, slow down and head for shore and look for a place to beach the boat. If it should sink, stay with the boat because chances are it will not sink entirely due to built in flotation and everybody can hang on to the gunnels or swim platform and be found by rescue people.

July 2013 column

'Ten commandments' of boating safety according to the USCGA

Here’s a different type of column this month but one that every boater should read. It’s the “Ten commandments” of boating safety from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary:

1. Thou Shalt Wear a Life Jacket
Coast Guard statistics show that the vast majority of drownings occur when no life jackets are being worn. Always have an adequate number of life jackets on board and make sure that children are wearing life jackets that fit correctly.

2. Never Shalt Thou Drink and Drive
Whether a car or a boat, it’s just plain crazy to drink and drive.  Rarely does alcohol account for less than 25 percent of boating accidents in a given year.

3. Taketh a Boating Safety Course
Yes, something as simple as an eight-hour boating safety course can make all the difference. Seventy percent of boating accidents involve skippers who have never taken a course. Check out the website at the bottom of this article to get connected to one of our upcoming “About Boating Safety” courses.

4. Safety Begins With Thou
Adults between the ages of 40 and 49 account for the highest rate of boating fatalities. You set the tone for safety for the entire crew and passengers. Remember, also, that you as skipper are legally responsible for everyone.

5. Thou Shalt Know The Rules of Navigation
Can you imagine giving the keys to the family car to one of your children and they have never opened a book on driving regulations, much less taken a course.  Most agree that at Lake Lanier the most often rule of boating violated are the “Rules of Navigation.”

6. Thou Shalt Keep a Good Look-Out, While Driving Safely
You are required by law to always maintain a look-out. You are also required to use all means available to do so. Have radar? Turn it on. Speed is another matter because, like driving a car, speed should always be reduced if visibility and/or weather demand it.  Nearby boat traffic is also a factor.

7. Knoweth Thy Weather
Clearly, if you have ever left your dock under beautiful skies and then came home under heavy weather, you know how important it is to know, before you go, what to expect during the course of your journey. Make it a habit to check the weather forecast before going out, and the weather channels on your VHF/FM marine radio are also available with up-to-date weather information.

8. Haveth Thy Boat Meet State and Federal Standards
Can there be any easier way to ensure that your boat meets USCG and state requirements than getting a FREE vessel safety check by a certified Coast Guard Auxiliarist?  No penalty for failure here. The Vessel Examiner will come back for a recheck after any deficiencies are corrected and award the windshield decal.

9. Useth a Carbon Monoxide Detector
If you have an enclosed cabin, equip it with a Carbon Monoxide detector. Most recently manufactured cabin cruisers will come equipped with one. You can’t smell this stuff, see it or taste it, and it can get you without you ever realizing its presence.  

10. Thou Shalt File a Float Plan
The U.S. Coast Guard recommends that you always tell a friend or family member where you plan to go and when you’ll be back.  Make it a habit before leaving on any boat trip, and this is especially true if you are cruising the ICW or offshore.

There, you’ve got ‘em to mull over, and if you would like to learn more about boating safety or maybe even explore membership in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, contact: Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier at (770-271-4059 or

June 2013 column

It's time to get your free vessel 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 remains so today. 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 several 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 21 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.

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 when they see it.

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 on board.
  • 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 pe
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