Blog April 2017


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Posted On: April 27, 2017

Tips for choosing the right visual distress signal for your boat and your use

With few exceptions, the U.S. Coast Guard requires vessels over 16 feet length overall with mechanical power to carry readily accessible, serviceable visual distress signals (VDS) on board for both daytime and nighttime uses. These include pyrotechnic and nonpyrotechnic devices, such as flags, flares and lights. Here’s what’s on the market today and a glimpse of things to come. Thanks go out to Marty Jackson, staff engineer with the U.S. Coast Guard, who works for the Office of Design and Engineering Standards, Lifesaving and Fire Safety Division, who helped in preparing this story.

Flags The Coast Guard-approved flag for daytime use only is a 3-foot by 3-foot orange background displaying a black square and a black circle. Deploy this flag by tying it to a mast, antenna, boat structure, boathook, fishing rod, etc. These flags are inexpensive, stow well and never go out of date. The downside is they don’t scream for attention quite as well as other daytime signals, such as smoke signals.

Electric Lights There is only one Coast Guard-approved light, and it is for nighttime use only: the Weems and Plath SOS Distress Light (model C-1001, ­ You must ­carry a distress flag or other approved daytime signal for the light to be compliant. This floating light fits in a rod holder and flashes a continuous SOS for hours. Its long-lasting signal time eliminates the need for short-lived, potentially dangerous pyrotechnics. On the other hand, this bright-white flasher might not grab the attention of boaters trained to look for a burning red flare. Therefore, while this light fulfills your nighttime-carriage requirement, I ­recommend using it in conjunction with pyrotechnics.

There are also non-approved electronic flares that belong in the awareness of any savvy skipper. These are great for getting attention, and one from a company whose products we have tested is the EF-20A-1 Electronic Flare from North American Survival Systems.

Flying a national flag upside down, displaying international code flags C and N (“Charlie” and “November”), three shots from a gun, prolonged horn blasts and more are also ways to signal distress, but they do not meet approval requirements for what must be carried aboard.

Flares Pyrotechnics fall into three classifications: floating, handheld and aerial (meteor and parachute). Floating and handheld red-smoke flares are approved for daytime use only. Red flares, whether handheld or aerial, are for daytime and nighttime uses. The notable difference among them is the distance from which they are visible to a rescuer at sea level.

All these pyrotechnics have the advantages of economy, reliability and high visibility, as well as recognition as the traditional distress signals, but they have been known to cause physical injury (burns) and, rarely, onboard fire when not properly ignited or handled.

Another disadvantage is their limited shelf lives, which means they must be replaced periodically to meet Coast Guard requirements. Disposing of outdated flares is difficult because local ordinances vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Check your local EPA office or the nearest Coast Guard facility for current rules.




Posted On: April 25, 2017

Boating Tips & Tricks

  1. Morning dew is distilled water: Wipe off your boat with it and it will be ­spot-free.
  2. For a mirrorlike shine, remove last season’s wax with a dewaxing solvent before applying wax this spring.
  3. Want a green alternative to bleach? White vinegar kills mold. Apply with a spray bottle
  4. Need to clean a RIB or shore-power cord? Citrus pumice-style hand cleaners work well.
  5. Have a scratched windshield, clear-vinyl curtains or sunglasses? A fine polish like 3M Finesse-It works well (so do counter-top polishes).
  6. Oven-cleaner spray will remove paint and adhesive residue from gelcoat without damaging it.
  7. Free play in hydraulic steering can often be eliminated by simply adding fluid to the helm pump.
  8. T-clamps are more expensive but clamp hoses evenly; worm-gear hose clamps can distort.
  9. If you find ­fishing line wrapped around the outboard or sterndrive’s prop shaft, have the unit pressure-tested to ensure the oil seals haven’t been compromised.
  10. Check engine belts for proper tension; also look for cracking and glazing, which are harbingers of failure.


Posted On: April 20, 2017

April 20 - Not the best of days

Oddly enough, April 20, or 4/20, is "celebrated" by pot smokers around the country. Across the nation, teenagers and college students, and cannabis loving people everywhere  earnestly get baked, extolling their love of cannabis - one of whose qualities is the erosion of memory.

But April 20 can supply everyone with some things they do not want to remember.

April 20, 1978, saw the infamous "interception" of Korean Air Lines flight 902 (on a Paris-Anchorage-Seoul route) by Soviet jets, in a narrowly-avoided aviation disaster. After straying into Soviet airspace over Murmansk, not far from the border with Finland in Russia's far north, the Boeing 707 was fired upon by Soviet Su-15 jets. Two people were killed, but the jet made an emergency landing, saving the rest of the 107 people on board. For many, though, this was a sign that the Soviet Union remained a violent and defensive empire

On April 20, two Colorado teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, entered the grounds of their high school, where they were seniors and started firing, first in the cafeteria and eventually in the library, where most of their killing took place. The Columbine massacre of April 20, 1999, would leave 13 dead and the nation's psyche forever altered with the inaccurate but indelible image of the Trench Coat Mafia.

Deepwater Horizon, the BP oil rig stationed (not all that securely, it would turn out) in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 and altering the lives of millions in the region. For months, the world was treated with images of black plumes, dark waters and oil-covered wild life. Just this week, scientists found that Gulf fish still bear traces of contamination.

And last year, while reporting from Libya, the photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed on this day by a mortar shell in Misrata. Their deaths struck a particular cord in New York, where they were members of a tightly-knit photo community based mostly in Brooklyn.



Posted On: April 18, 2017

Sooner or later, you will encounter Fog.

Excellent article by Tom Neale on how to navigate through it.

Navigating Fog

Even with all the electronic eyes and ears on our modern vessels, fog at sea can bring on disorientation, panic, and danger. Here's how to get ready and deal with it.

When you're boating in fog, your perception of the world around you changes dramatically. Basic instincts don't work well, if at all. Your normal sources of information about what's around you become virtually useless, and it's easy to grow confused and disoriented.

When fog descends, immediately turn on all relevant navigational instruments. Radar and other hardware require warming up, perhaps for up to three minutes — an eternity if you can't see and there's danger nearby. Turn on your navigation lights; verify the horn is working; have your bell ready, if you carry one; get out spotlights (they may help or hinder, but have them at hand); and ready safety gear.

Note your compass course and bearings to geographical features and dangers. These include boats, reef, shoals, and aids to navigation (ATON). Do this with the actual compass, and also use the chartplotter, radar, and paper charts. Program your chartplotter with appropriate waypoints and/or routes, if you haven't already done so. It may be appropriate to pick out a safe area and put in a "go to" route.

Everyone should wear life jackets outfitted with a strobe, whistle, and other appropriate safety equipment. You won't be seen if you go in the water.

If you're in restricted waters, stop if it's prudent. (More on this later.) If you're in open water with no known hazards, it's usually safe to proceed, slowing down to a speed suitable for the circumstances, which usually means moving just enough to maintain steerage and control. The faster you're running, the quicker you must react to dangers that may present themselves with little advance warning. Begin sound signals as required by the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules. See Rules 35, 34, and 2 as well as all others applicable to the situation.

The Watch

Set up extra watch. Usually this involves having all available on deck and assigned a watch task. If only two people are aboard, obviously one must be at the helm. To the extent that this person can watch visually, he or she should, but often visibility is limited to just a few feet and that person is also concentrating on the radar, chartplotter, and other instruments.

The person on watch frequently stands outside the steering station, peering into the fog and listening. Visibility, such as it is, should be better outside without the misting of the windshield or windscreen. And the swirling mist makes phantom shapes that are confusing. But occasionally, as you become accustomed to fog, you'll begin to pick out temporary density changes, which may indicate a target.

The outside watchperson should have a good set of binoculars but may not use them unless they're needed to clarify an anomaly because the lenses quickly mist up in fog. When you do peer into the fog with binoculars, be prepared to see anything from nothing to shapes that are very different from what you saw with your eyes. Also look for other clues: Wakes, for example, can indicate that a boat has recently passed.

It's also easier to hear outside. Any unusual sound should be considered suspect and should be checked out. In fog, the tiniest noise from your boat may distort or drown out the slightest noise from another boat. Sometimes it helps to temporarily kill the engine to better hear, but I'm normally reluctant to do this because I never know when I might need to quickly get out of the way of something. However, circumstances may call for this.

Fog not only muffles sounds; it plays tricks with them. It's often very difficult to know the direction of a sound. If you hear something, try to get a general idea of direction, alert the helm, and use radar and/or the chartplotter and charts to sort it out. Use fog sound signals. You may also need to call out on the VHF. Examples of sounds that you may hear include fog signals from other vessels, engines, tidal rips, breaking waves, wakes, land sounds such as sirens or traffic, signals on ATON, and even people talking.

It may be best for the lookout to be at or near the bow. You can see things sooner, and there is less hindrance from your engine noise. With sufficient crew, a lookout on the stern is also helpful, watching for overtaking vessels and acting as a double check on the bow lookout. Be sensitive to smells. We've smelled land, rocks, other boats (from their exhaust or moldy hulls), commercial fishing boats, buoys, and even tidal changes.

The Helm

If there are enough crew, assign a person to help the helmsperson. Steering to a radar screen, chartplotter, computer screen, or compass when you can't see is difficult unless you're experienced. Practice in good weather to get the feel for it when you're socked in. This will help to prepare you for the emotional jolt you'll experience when you're behind the wheel in the soup.

In good weather and open water, with at least one other competent person aboard to keep watch for other boats and dangers, force yourself to steer toward and away from a radar image without letting yourself look at anything but the radar. Do the same for a target on a chartplotter or the combined screen overlay. If your target is a far distance off, this may not be a problem, but if it's at close range, it may be very difficult. If the target is moving, or if there are other targets around, it's even more challenging. Steering blind can add an element of panic.

 Radars and chartplotters don't have an instant real-time acquisition and refresh rate. It isn't going to be as close to real time as seeing that target with your eyes. Complicating the situation, you'll probably be moving much slower than usual, so your boat will respond more sluggishly. As you try to compensate for a new image on the screen, which has suddenly jumped off to the side, your boat isn't going to react like you expect when you turn the wheel, and this can cause a tendency to overshoot or undershoot.

I steer best if I quickly look at the compass and get a bearing when I'm concerned about a target on the radar or a bearing on the chartplotter. This works for me because I've been steering compass courses for more than 60 years. Other tactics might work better for you. Learn to use and interpret the displays on your electronics intuitively. You won't have time to figure it out when you're fogged in.

Your radar doesn't necessarily show you everything out there. It may miss some targets completely, especially if it isn't adjusted correctly for the circumstances (rain, sea clutter, mist). Some radars automatically adjust to some interference, but never rely on this function completely. Learn to distinguish targets. A blob looks like a blob, but a big steel ship, for example, will generally create a much larger blob than a buoy.

Disappearing and reappearing blobs are common. Sometimes it's because of a wave, an echo, or some other anomaly. Sometimes it's because of a small boat or obstruction. I've even picked up a flock of geese in V formation — even when the set was properly tuned. Become familiar with how your set reacts to different phenomena. Your boat may create radar reflections, particularly if there's a mast or other structure behind the antenna.

Learn how to determine whether a target you see on radar is closing with you. This is relatively easy when you're also using your eyes with good visibility. But in the fog (or at night), it can be quite difficult unless you understand your radar and how to use it, including collision prediction. Depending on your boat, you may want to have a radar reflector up so other radar-equipped boats can see you.

Fog will probably happen to you sooner or later. Plan now, prepare now. You'll be glad you did when your world disappears from view. 



Posted On: April 13, 2017

Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it changes depending on a few things. The council of Nicea 325 determined that it would occur after the full moon following the vernal equinox on the next occurring Sunday, unless this happened to interfere with Passover, in which case it should be the Sunday after that. Got it? It can occur anytime between March 22 and April 25.



The tradition of eating ham most likely came from the slaughter of an animal before fall and then preserved in salt over the winter, sometimes buried near the sea. 67 percent of Americans serve ham at their Easter dinners, according to, and this typically breaks any meat fast that is undertaken during Lent.



Posted On: April 11, 2017

How to Radio for Help in a Life-Threatening Emergency

So let’s review as the season starts, a lot of mishaps can occur out on the water, but thankfully most are more inconvenient and embarrassing than anything else. But when lives are on the line – your boat is on fire or sinking rapidly with people on board or someone is in imminent danger of dying without immediate medical assistance – you want every available resource dispatched to your position.

A Mayday call will bring that kind of help. Not only will the U.S. Coast Guard respond but the Coast Guard may notify state and local search and rescue units in your vicinity and ask them to respond as well. The Coast Guard will also transmit an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast over marine-band VHF-FM radio Channel 16, notifying all vessels in the area of your emergency. In many cases a nearby Good Samaritan will be first on the scene to render assistance.

A Mayday – the term is derived from the French venez m'aider, meaning “Come. Help me” – should be transmitted if possible via marine-band VHF-FM radio Channel 16 or 2182 kHz MF/SSB. Emergencies can go from bad to worse in seconds so try to get as much information across in as little time as possible.
 International Maritime Organization protocols call for beginning the transmission with the word "Mayday" repeated three times, followed by the name and number of your vessel and its position. If you have a marine GPS, relate the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. If not, state your distance and magnetic or true bearing from the closest navigational landmark. If time allows, you can also relay your departure point, departure time and the speed at which you were traveling. All of these can help rescuers locate you.