In the U.S., a merchant mariner license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard is required to operate a commercial vessel, a towboat, or a vessel that carries passengers for hire. Boat dealers and schools that offer on-the-water operator training may require a license for people who teach for them. Insurance companies may require a yacht delivery skipper to have a license, and some marine insurance companies offer a discount to boat owners who have a license. For information about merchant mariner licenses see www.uscg.mil/nmc and p. 240 in the Mariner’s Guide.
Some boaters may worry about being caught out after dark or having to do a trip during the night hours. If you never go out at night or really believe that you will never be caught out after dark, then perhaps you don’t need to worry about navigating at night. However, it’s a relatively easy skill to master with practice, and sometimes navigating at night is actually easier than in the day.
Practice first in an area where there are lighted aids to navigation, but not too many lights on shore behind the aids to obscure them when you look toward the shore from seaward. Your home area may be best if the conditions are right. (1) make a list of the characteristics of the lights in the area; (2) go out before sunset, look at all the familiar buoys and lights in daylight; (3) from a relatively stationary location (anchor or drive around slowly), observe the lights as they come on as it gets dark; (4) compare what you see to the chart, and note where shore lights may interfere with seeing the lights on the aids to navigation. Once you are familiar with the lights in your home area, you are ready to try new areas at dusk and then in the dark. Remember to turn on your boat’s navigation lights at sunset. Check them before you go out.
Is it night, dense fog, fog with visibility under 2nm, a heavy rainstorm? As you may know, the Navigation Rules do not precisely define restricted visibility. However, it is not night by itself, but it is anything that impairs visibility to some degree (fog, rain, snow, dust, smog, haze, smoke, sandstorm, blizzard, etc.)
If you are near an area of restricted visibility, you are considered to be in restricted visibility for the purposes of the Rules. Rule 19 of the Navigation Rules has the rules for the conduct of vessels in restricted visibility when they are not in sight (visually) of each other. Rule 35 has the required sound signals. See www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent for the text of Rules 19 and 35.
Because the skipper is in charge of the safe operation of the boat and the welfare of the crew, he or she is also responsible for taking care of any medical issues that may arise.
The skipper should make sure that there’s a proper first aid kit aboard, suitable for the boat’s area of operation and how far the boat will be from medical assistance. Being the medical officer doesn’t mean that the skipper must perform first aid if there is someone aboard who has more training in what’s needed. A trained person is the first choice for assistance.
The captain is there to make sure that what needs to be done, gets done. This may mean coordinating assistance on the VHF radio, assigning crew tasks for a medical emergency, and other responsibilities. Think about what you would do in the case of a disabling injury or illness to one of your crew or yourself, if you’re the skipper. If you normally operate with only one other person aboard, it’s essential for both of you to have a plan. Everyone who’s in charge of a boat should take a basic first aid/CPR course; the more trained people out there on the water, the better for all of us.
Instead of shouting (sometimes mixed with cursing) back and forth between helm and bow (providing entertainment for bystanders), some boaters use hand signals, which work pretty well for many people. An alternative is to use a wireless, hands-free communicator system – they’re readily available and relatively inexpensive. This system is especially good when it's windy or there's other noise interfering with hearing. In the U.S., FCC regulations prohibit the use of VHF radios as an intercom. If you must communicate with un-amplified words, the person on the bow must face the helmsman when speaking or yelling. Read my lips.
If you sail only occasionally or don’t operate where there are many sailing vessels you may not recall the rules. Operators of power-driven vessels should also have a basic understanding of the sailing rules because when they are maneuvering among sailing vessels, the sailboats have the right of way. However, a sailboat may be meeting another sailboat and have to observe sailing rules, causing the boat to do an unexpected maneuver near the powerboat. Woe to the powerboat skipper who comes upon a sailboat race!
Rule 12 of the Navigation Rules defines which sailing vessel has the right of way when two sailboats that are in sight of each other approach and risk of collision exists. Remember that “in sight” means visually; if you see a vessel on radar or AIS and not with your eyes, it is not in sight.
(1) When each sailboat has the wind on a different side, the vessel with the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the vessel with the wind on the starboard side. Starboard tack has right of way.
(2) When both sailboats have the wind on the same side, the vessel that is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel that is to leeward.
(3) If a sailboat on port tack (wind on the port side) can’t determine which tack the other vessel is on, the port tack vessel shall keep out of the way of the other vessel.
(4) When a sailboat overtakes another sailboat or a power-driven vessel, the overtaking boat always keeps out of the way, and it should keep going until well past and clear of the other vessel. Don’t cut in ahead of the vessel or cross in front of her. Rule 13 discusses overtaking. The text for Rules 12 and 13 is available at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent
When did you last conduct an emergency drill on your boat? It’s more than just showing the people aboard where the lifejackets and fire extinguishers are. Commercial vessels in American waters are required by the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct regular emergency drills for man overboard, fire, and abandon ship situations. Pleasure craft operators should follow this practice, even though it’s not required by law. If there are children aboard, include them in the drills, according to their abilities. See emergency drill, pp.156-157 in the Mariner’s Guide, for ideas and suggestions.
We endlessly debate and complain about the weather and the forecasts. Sometimes they are spot-on and at other times we wonder if the forecasters looked out the window. No matter where you get your forecasts (radio or TV, VHF radio, Internet, NAVTEX, weatherfax, or from a custom weather forecaster) you need some basic forecasting abilities yourself to make the predictions more useful. Take a basic weather course and study one or more marine weather text books. Remember that many forecasts cover an area larger or smaller than you may be interested in, and that conditions may change rapidly after the forecast time.
Analyze the weather yourself.
As you've probably guessed, the answer is "yes" and "yes." AIS (Automatic Identification System) is required on ships over 300 gross tons and all passenger-carrying vessels. Marine navigation aids (lighthouses, buoys) are also being equipped with AIS transmitters.
Your boat may not be required to have AIS but you may rely on it to give you information about navigation aids or ships near your area. At a 2013 security conference in Kuala Lumpur a team of computer security experts (using homemade equipment) showed how they found a way to fake ship positions, collision alerts and weather forecasts, among eight types of security attacks.The team also demonstrated how they created an imaginary ship off the coast of Italy.
"The team said that except for the fake ship creation off the Italian coast, all other attacks were conducted in controlled lab environments. They also informed various coast guards and marine-based agencies before carrying out their tests, including the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which designed the AIS." (Professional Mariner, Oct. 16, 2013)
The team explained that AIS has no authentication or security mechanisms, so hacking is possible. Apparently when AIS was introduced about 10 years ago, the developers didn't consider security measures for the system. Similar security flaws are apparently found in two other essential marine navigation technologies: GPS and ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) used by ships for viewing digital nautical charts.
The ramifications of having fake data showing up on AIS, GPS and ECDIS screens are serious. Collisions, terrorist opportunities and piracy against shipping could be created by criminal hackers. We will see how long it takes to put strong security mechanisms into these vital systems.
For more details on this security threat see http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/23/us-cybersecurity-shipping-idUSBREA3M20820140423
The National Transportation Marine Accident investigation division released its report on the sinking of the Tall Ship, Bounty, Oct. 29, 2012, during hurricane Sandy. The report says that the probable cause of the sinking "was the captain's reckless decision to sail the vessel into the well-forecasted path of Hurricane Sandy, which subjected the aging vessel and inexperienced crew to conditions from which the vessel could not recover. Contributing to the sinking was the lack of effective safety oversight by the vessel organization." For the very interesting complete report in PDF form (16 pages), see https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/reports_marine.html. The report date is 2/6/2014.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.