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Boating Safety

Seamanship:  Page 7

1. Navigation

2. Boat Handling

3. Weather

4.  Communications

5.  Sailing

6.  Emergencies

7.  Courtesy on the water

By now you have realized there are a lot of rules you need to know to operate your boat safely.  Almost all of those are written down some where or codified into laws or regulations.

However there are some that you also need to know that involve simply how to act when boating or sailing. Much of it is tradition. One might call these manners or courtesy.  Courtesy to who?   Other boaters, and to people who live near the shore and around boats.  None of these mean you can't have fun.  Boating is all about fun.  But when your fun intrudes on others or damages others then it can have undesirable consequences.

Helping others:  It is a long tradition of the sea that mariners help other mariners in distress. This stems from the days when there was no help available.  No Coast Guard, no radios, no rescue services.  The only help available was when one ship encountered another in trouble. This even extended to ships from nations that were currently enemies.

That tradition continues today because even with rescue services available it may be hours before rescue can arrive.  Keep an eye out.  There are far too many stories by people who have survived a sinking, fire or other disaster, of how many boats passed them by without so much as a glance their way. 

If you see someone obviously in need of aid at least offer to stand by, or take people on to your boat, until rescue arrives.  You have no legal obligation to put yourself in danger, and you are afforded some protection by "Good Samaritan" laws. If you attempted to help in good faith, and things went bad, these laws protect you from liability. However, they are not absolute.  Know your own capabilities.  Do not tow unless it is necessary to keep the other boat from immediate danger.  Don't ever attempt to fight a fire unless you have the right firefighting equipment and the right training.

Wakes:  One of the most often complaints heard in boating circles, and by property owners, is damaging wakes.  You can be held responsible for damage caused by your boat's wake.  Of course they would have to prove it was you that did the damage, but why have to defend yourself? 

The simple solution is, slow down to a no wake speed around anchored boats, kayakers,  rowboats, sailboat races, docks and marinas.  Running full tilt through a group of boats rafted up, or anchored in a bay will not earn you any points for courtesy.  Kayaks, rowboats, sailing dinghies, and other small boats can be easily capsized by a large wake, and nobody likes being dunked unexpectedly.

Just because it is not a no-wake zone does not mean you can go racing through, rocking all the boats around you.  There is an old longstanding myth that if you are on plane your wake is minimal.  That is nonsense.  It will appear smaller to you because it is far behind you and the distance between the waves is greater, but you still throw a large wake. 

When you do slow down,   Slow to displacement speed.  On a planing hull boat at speeds higher 7 or 8 mph the bow begins to lift and the stern to sink lower and creates a bigger wake. Slow down to no wake displacement speeds.

During a recent presidential election cycle there were a lot of boat parades organized to support the candidates. Most of these were well organized and the participants kept their boats at displacement hull speeds. However, there were several instances of participants going at speeds that threw a high wake and swamping boats of other participants and boats of spectators. Other persons were thrown in the water and injured, and had to be rescued. This is really dangerous and a lack of courtesy, and could even result in charges of negligence.

Boaters are not the only ones who can be disturbed by wakes. Large wakes can damage shorelines, sea walls, and docks.  In England boats on the many narrow canals and rivers are limited by law to 4 mph because higher speeds damage the shorelines and cause erosion.  The same can happen anywhere. There are constant reports of damaged docks and eroded shorelines on popular boating waterways.  Be courteous. Slow down.

Loud Noise:  Another thing that irritates many people is loud boats, loud music and in general a lot of noise on the water.  In a quiet anchorage, no one appreciates someone who starts up a generator in the middle of the night or early morning hours and wakes everyone up.

With modern ski and wake board boats, many come standard with extremely loud stereo systems.   There is a time and a place for everything, and if you like these please find the time and the place to use them without disturbing others.  If you like to go to raft ups at places like Havasu, Lake Powell, Lake Shasta, any other places where boaters gather, this may be ok. If you like to pull skiers, wakeboards, water toys, etc., by all means have fun and play your stereo, but don't do it at 5 in the morning,  or much after the dinner hour.  Do it away from quiet neighborhoods surrounding the lake or waterway. On a quiet lake with mostly people fishing and sailing, your ACDC, or Heavy Metal or other loud music may not be appreciated.

Some people enjoy what are called Performance boats,  Speed Boats, or Hot Boats.  These are generally very fast boats with big engines.  Usually the engines sit out in the open, are chromed up, and highly modified. They are the Hot Rods of the boating world. Unfortunately they are also usually not well muffled. They can be heard from a long ways away.  There is a time and a place for these types of boats. There are sponsored rallys, regattas, and races.  But outside of these events they can be very disturbing because of the loud noise they make.  Many states and municipalities have noise ordinances, and where these laws apply boat operators can be ticketed for exceeding the noise levels.  But more important is they disturb the whole lake and surrounding land.  So if you like these types of boats find out where you can use them without any problems.

Personal Watercraft:  (AKA Jet Skis, Waverunners, Sea-doo, etc.) See Prorider Magazine, and Watercraft Journal. They have their place.  Many people love them.  They are a lot of fun.  I have used them on a few occasions.  But buzzing other boats, surfing on large boats' wakes and not obeying the navigation rules is going to get you a lot of nasty looks and comments, and maybe a ticket from the local marine police.  Use common sense.  If you want to do donuts or jump wakes, do it in the middle of the lake away from other boaters. Oh, and by the way, several people have been killed trying to surf on the wakes of large yachts or ships.  The wakes from these large vessels can actually suck a small boat like a PWC right into the side of the vessel. Stay away!

Sail Boat Races:  If you love sailing and want to get into racing, go for it. Have fun. There are sailing clubs everywhere, and yacht clubs also sponsor sailboat races.  For boaters not participating, both sail and power, stay away from these. Don't go cutting through the fleet.  Go around.  You can cause capsizes and injuries. 

On the other hand sailboat races and regattas have no legal right to impede waterways, particularly if there is commercial taffic. There is a famous photo of a sailboat race in San Francisco Bay, cutting directly across the shipping channel with a supertanker bearing down on them. The tanker cannot maneuver to avoid them and it often takes miles for them to stop. These ships are so large and long that persons on the bridge may not even be able to see the sailboats once they get close. If you are the one to arrange these events make sure they are in a safe area, away from shipping or normal boat traffic. Also be aware that in many places you need to obtain a regatta permit from the US Coast Guard for these events. 

Fishing:  If you like to fish, so do millions of people. A huge percentage of the small boats on the water are used for recreational fishing.  But as with most things, there are two sides to this story.

If you are fishing, don't block the channel, particularly in a narrow waterway where large vessels cannot navigate outside the channel and cannot easily avoid you. Sounds simple. It happens far too frequently.  For some reason, some people think they can fish in the channel and they don't have to move. Wrong.  The rules in the COLREGS and US Inland Navigation Rules that give fishing vessels certain privileges apply to commercial fishing vessels, not your little recreational boat.  And they don't apply to all fishing vessels, only certain types that are unable to maneuver easily. 

On the other hand, it is simple courtesy to avoid rocking and rolling boats that are anchored fishing, by running fast by them, throwing a large wake. Give them a break. Slow down, or pass by far away. 

Swimming Areas:  Stay away from swimming areas, at least 100 feet or more! In most states that's the law as well as common sense. That's all that needs to be said.

There are more simple courtesies that boaters should know.  The best text for this is Chapmans Piloting and Seamanship.  Every boat owner should have a copy and read it frequently.


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