If your boat has a regular leak you probably know if the bilge pump works; however, if the bilge is normally fairly dry you may not really know how efficient the bilge pumping system is. Most pumps are pretty good at removing small amounts of water, but what about a flooding situation? How much water can your electric or manual pumps move individually or together in an actual test? Test the pumps by putting a known quantity of fresh water in the bilge (perhaps five gallons/20liters) and timing how long it takes to empty the bilge using each pump and both at the same time. Add this to your “to-do” list before the start of the boating season. Read about bilge pumps, Mariner’s Guide pp. 42-44, flooding, p.172, and collision mat, p.103, for ideas.
How do you develop your seamanship skills and learn what you need to know "to have fun and stay safe?" This is definitely required reading for all boaters. Neale's award-winning article appeared in Soundings magazine, May 2011. http://tinyurl.com/cvnkstr.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons, and boating organizations in other countries offer a free vessel safety check (also called a courtesy check or exam) upon request. The examiners check for the equipment required by regulations, and they will make recommendations about how you can make your boat safer. There are no government reports involved. If you haven’t had your boat checked out, add this to your “to-do” list. In the U.S., to find out more see www.safetyseal.net; in Canada go to http://tinyurl.com/calgb3y, and in other countries go to the websites of your recreational boating organizations.
Even if you have GPS and a chart plotter, all boats need a reliable magnetic compass. If the electronics fail or become unreliable the compass will help get you home, assuming that the compass is accurate and you have a paper chart. Check out the compass entries in the Mariner’s Guide on pp. 106-109, determine the alignment error (p. 14), check for deviation and make a deviation table (pp. 134-135). An accurate compass is an essential safety device.
What do these dayshapes mean? A few of them may be displayed occasionally by recreational vessels, but if you operate where there are commercial vessels you’ll see dayshapes more frequently. You need to know what they mean. See the Mariner’s Guide p. 129 or the Navigation Rules 24 through 30. The text of the rules is available at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent
Make a list of the factors you think may affect the reliability of aids to navigation. Then look at aids to navigation, cautions, Mariner's Guide pp.12-13, and see if you can add anything to the list. Please send your additions via the website contact form
Professional Mariner magazine, April 2012, reviewed some of the actions which contributed to the incident. There are lessons for all mariners in charge of a vessel, large or small. (1) Don’t be encouraged by people aboard into taking the vessel into waters that might be dangerous just to get a closer look at something or to give the people on shore a good look at your boat. A close-up view or a photo opportunity is not worth taking a risk. (2) If you decide to take the vessel into possibly unsafe waters what would you do if an essential system, such as the steering or the engine, fails? Do you know if there’s room for error? (3) Even when navigating in familiar waters always use at least two independent methods of fixing the vessel’s position at frequent intervals to be sure you stay in safe water. There’s a temptation to assume “I’ve done this route so often I can eyeball it.” These three points may be basic concepts to many boaters, but they were apparently forgotten or ignored in the Costa Concordia incident.
A few readers have asked me why there are a number of photos that appear to have been be taken outside the U.S. Since I switched from film to digital photography in 2004 I have been on the water primarily in northwest Europe, especially the UK, for a number of summers.Thus, some photos were taken across the pond, and they were selected because they clearly illustrate a particular entry. Digitizing film negatives from my pre-2004 North American film photo library doesn't yield the best quality images.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.