From time to time, the U.S. Coast Guard issues helpful advice about safety issues. In a document dated Jan. 9, 2014, the CG writes “In a recent offshore regatta, numerous sailboats experienced steering system and other failures which required assistance and/or rescue by the U. S. Coast Guard when a weather system stalled offshore creating higher than expected sea states and winds. The Coast Guard responded using an array of assets to render assistance.” This one-page PDF has a handy checklist of reminders about preparing your boat for an offshore trip; download it at http://tiny.cc/gn4o9w
As defined in Rule 3(g) of the Navigation Rules, a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver (also called a RAM vessel) is one “which from the nature of her work is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by [the Navigation Rules], and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.” The definition applies to both power-driven and sailing vessels. RAM vessels display the dayshape of a black ball-diamond-ball in a vertical line. At night RAM vessels will display three lights in a vertical line: red-white-red. They may also display additional lights and dayshapes, depending on the nature of their work.
Some examples of RAM vessels include a vessel laying, servicing or picking up a navigation aid, submarine cable, or pipeline; a dredge; a vessel engaged in surveying or underwater operations; a vessel engaged in replenishment, cargo or personnel transfer while underway; a towing vessel with a tow that severely restricts the towing vessel and her tow from deviating from their course; a vessel launching or recovering aircraft; a mine-clearing vessel.
The required lights and dayshapes for these vessels are found in Rule 27 (b-g). Rule 35 prescribes the sound signals for RAM vessels in restricted visibility. The rules are complicated, and if you operate where any of these vessels might be found you need to learn the rules. The text is available at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent. See also Mariner’s Guide, p. 330. Buy a plastic reference card with lights, shapes, and sound signals to keep near the helm.
Hearing slapping halyards can be annoying or even enraging. It’s an unnecessary noise, and the person who doesn’t tie off the halyards is being inconsiderate of others. It’s as annoying as a barking dog that yaps all the time, ignored by its owner. If you’re a sailboat operator tie, off the halyards away from the mast whenever the boat is at anchor, on a mooring, in a marina, or stored on land. Even the halyards on a small sailboat can make a racket. If you’re bothered by a noisy nearby sailboat and someone is aboard, it’s perfectly OK to ask that the halyards be tied off. I know some boaters who will go aboard an unoccupied sailboat in a marina with a length of heavy twine and tie the halyards off themselves. It’s probably not legal to go aboard, but they are annoyed enough to do it. There’s a story circulating about a woman who lived at Great Salt Pond in Block Island, Rhode Island, who rowed out to sailboats to request that they tie off their halyards because she could hear them from her house on the harbor. Be a good neighbor.
What happens to the water when the wind blows in opposition to a current? (The word “tide” is often used as a synonym for current, as in “wind against tide”). If you’ve never encountered this in your travels you may not know. If you’ve been in a wind against current situation, you probably remember. A strong current flowing against a strong wind can produce waves that may be dangerous to vessels of all sizes, and in some places only a moderate wind against a current can produce uncomfortable or even dangerous conditions.
When the wind opposes the current, the wave height increases and the wave length (distance between wave crests) decreases. You get short, steep seas. Fortunately, most cruising guides and some charts indicate locations where these conditions may occur. Wind with current decreases the wave height and increases the wave length, so it’s not as dangerous, but the conditions could still be challenging to navigate.
The Rule of Good Seamanship, Rule 2(a) of the Navigation Rules, says there is nothing in the Rules that excuses a mariner from not complying with a navigation rule. So, may a boater ever ignore a Navigation Rule? The answer is a qualified “yes, in a very specific instance.”
Rule 2(b) of the Navigation Rules (aka the General Prudential Rule) says that a vessel may depart from the Rules to avoid a collision only when two conditions are met:
(1) the circumstances must be special and
(2) the danger must be immediate.
The Rules don’t define “special” or “immediate.” Interpretation is complicated and argued by lawyers in marine accident court cases. Read Rule 2(a,b) at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent, and see the 11/11/13 post.
Boaters certainly should pay attention to good seamanship in all aspects of boat operation, but is there an actual rule relating to navigation seamanship? Yes, there is. Rule 2(a) of the Navigation Rules (aka the Rule of Good Seamanship) says that there is nothing in the Navigation Rules that excuses a mariner who does not comply with the Rules, who doesn’t take precautions that a prudent seaman would take under the circumstances, and who does not take into account any special circumstances of a situation which may require special precautions. There are a lot of vague and undefined words in this rule. Seamanship evolves with technology, and the interpretation of good seamanship changes over time. All boaters are expected to know how to use all the functional navigational aids on their vessels; professional mariners are held to an even higher standard of seamanship. Read Rule 2(a) at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent, and see the next post.
If you have a digital selective calling (DSC) radio aboard (it has a red “distress” button on the front), have you read the radio’s manual for this important piece of safety gear? Does the radio have an integral GPS or must it be connected to an existing GPS or a GPS chart plotter on the boat? The Coast Guard reports that 80% of the VHF-DSC Mayday calls have no vessel location because the radio is not connected to an operating GPS. Without a precise location, rescuers cannot respond quickly to the emergency. If the instructions in the radio and GPS manuals about hooking the radio up to a GPS look too complicated, contact a marine electronics installer and get it done. The cost is worth it. If the radio has a built-in GPS, then you only need an MMSI number.
Any DSC radio must have an MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number programmed into it so the emergency feature works. This number identifies the vessel; you will fill out an application form with the boat information. If the boat will operate only in U.S. waters, you can get a number for free from BoatUS (www.BoatUS.com/MMSI).
If a U.S.-registered boat travels to foreign waters (Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and the Caribbean or abroad) you will need to get the MMSI number, for a small fee, from the FCC at
After you’ve hooked up the DSC radio to a GPS, read the radio manual and see what else a DSC radio can do for you. There is a very nice tutorial about DSC radio on the BoatUS website at http://www.boatus.com/foundation/dsc/player.html.
In a press release dated Oct. 20, 2013, the U.S. chart producing agency, NOAA, announced that as of April 13, 2014 it will no longer produce traditional paper charts for U.S. waters. However, “NOAA-certified Print-on-Demand partners will continue to sell up-to-date paper nautical charts.” http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20131022_nauticalcharts.html
“With the end of traditional paper charts, our primary concern continues to be making sure that boaters, fishing vessels, and commercial mariners have access to the most accurate, up-to-date nautical chart in a format that works well for them,” said Capt. Shep Smith, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “Fortunately, advancements in computing and mobile technologies give us many more options than was possible years ago.”
Please follow the Mariner’s Guide blog for upcoming posts about paper and electronic charts.
Rule 35 of the Navigation Rules prescribes the sound signals for power-driven and sailing vessels in or near an area of restricted visibility, day or night. Visibility can be affected by fog, rain, snow, dust, smog, haze, smoke, sandstorm, blizzard, etc. Note that night by itself is NOT restricted visibility. The sound signals are essentially the same under International and Inland Rules. There are signals for vessels underway and making way, underway but stopped, vessels doing specific operations, vessels anchored, aground, or being towed. Note that “underway” in the Rules means “not at anchor, aground, or made fast to the shore.”
Study Rule 35: the text of the rule is available at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent. There’s a lot to learn, not only for your boat but for other vessels out there lurking just out of sight. Buy a plastic reference card with the sound signals and lights on it, and keep it near the helm. When you hear a loud whistle signal near you that makes you jump out of your skin, you’d better know what is making the sound and what you should do about it.
Power-driven vessel signals. A power driven vessel is defined in Rule 3(b) of the Navigation Rules as “any vessel propelled by machinery.” This includes a sailboat operating the engine with the sails up or a canoe with an electric outboard motor. Rule 34 details the sound signals that shall be used by power-driven vessels maneuvering in sight (visually) of each other.
Rule 35 has the sound signals for vessels in or near restricted visibility, day or night. Learn the signals for your boat and for other vessels so you know what is approaching. There are also special signals for narrow channels, and the rules are slightly different for Inland and International waters.
Learn the sound signals for the waters in which you operate and have ready access to your boat’s horn. Remember, if you hear five short and rapid blasts on a boat’s horn or a ship’s whistle near you – look around! That’s the danger signal. Have a plastic reference card that lists the sound signals near the helm for quick reference. The text of the rules is available at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.