First, do you have an operative horn that is easily accessible at the helm position(s) on your boat? Powerboats and sailboats are required under the Navigation Rules to sound appropriate whistle signals (ships have “whistles;” the rest of us usually have electric or portable air horns) for maneuvering and warning and in or near areas of restricted visibility. These sound signals are discussed in Navigation Rules 32-36. Even if you are not sounding whistle signals yourself you must know what the signals mean if you hear them. There are a number of signals, and some differ between the Inland and the International Rules. Read Rules 32-36 carefully: the text is available at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent.
Are specific jobs on your boat done exclusively by one particular individual? One person always maintains the engine, another always does the varnishing; one person does the provisioning and galley work, another does the navigation planning and execution; one person is always at the helm, another person always does the anchor work. The list could go on. Cross-training is a buzzword in business and industry, and it can be a good idea on a boat, too. Having people aboard who can take over to give each other a break from always having to do the same task contributes to an efficient and safer boat.
If the particular crew member who is the only one who knows how to handle the boat, navigate, or make a minor engine repair becomes incapacitated, safety could be affected. Certainly, each person is better at some things than others, but most people can learn a new task or part of a task, if they’re willing to try. Having a cross-trained crew makes life aboard more interesting and pleasant for all. The chief varnisher may not give up putting on the flawless final coats, but almost anyone can do the surface preparation. The mechanic on the boat doesn’t have to teach the complicated engine repairs, but almost anyone can learn to change the engine fluids, tighten belts, replace an impeller, bleed the fuel system, clean and check the engine, etc.
(See “The Engine Room” at www.womenandcruising.com/admirals-angle/2008/06/22-the-engine-room.) Probably the skipper is not going to have any luck trying to cross-train someone to disassemble the toilet or work on the holding tank, but there is really nothing that most people cannot learn to do if they’re willing, encouraged and taught. Share the responsibility. Share the fun.
Effective 01 August, 2013, the U. S. Coast Guard will terminate its radio guard of the international voice distress, safety and calling frequency 2182 kHz and the international digital selective calling (DSC) distress and safety frequency 2187.5 kHz. Additionally, marine information and weather broadcasts transmitted on 2670 kHz will terminate concurrently. The Coast Guard will continue to maintain a continuous watch on VHF FM channel 16 (156.8 MHz) and on existing voice and DSC frequencies in the 4/6/8/12 MHz bands as described in the Coast Guard Navigation Center website http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=cgcommsCall.
No matter who is aboard, family or friends, it’s up to the skipper to create the atmosphere for a crew that works well together and has fun. Captain Bligh didn’t have the knack, and look what happened. Here are some basic things a skipper can do to help foster a crew who works well together and enjoys being aboard your boat.
(1) recognize that some people may be apprehensive or uncertain about being on the water or about being able to do things safely aboard a boat.
(2) Involve everyone: help non-boating family members, guests, and children feel that they are a part of the crew.
(2) Give everyone a meaningful task (within their capabilities), and take time to explain what you want each person to do, well before he or she is expected to do it.
(3) Keep everyone informed, without going into too much detail.
(4) Be generous with praise where it is merited.
(5) Include yourself in the blame if something goes wrong. “I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t explain clearly enough.” “ We goofed, didn’t we?” “Not your fault; I should have come closer to the dock.” Usually a person knows when he or she is at fault; they probably don’t need to have a stern reminder or a chewing out.
(6) Be generous with thanks.
With the recent rescues of disabled Carnival cruise ships by the Coast Guard, it has been suggested by some legislators and some of the public that the cruise line should reimburse the government for the cost of the services. From time to time, someone suggests that anyone who uses Coast Guard services should be required to pay for the rescue.
Mario Vittone has written an interesting perspective on this issue on gCaptain.com: http://tinyurl.com/c8yk9m7. Mr. Vittone has twenty-one years of combined military service in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, and he writes and lectures extensively on maritime safety topics. His website has important and interesting information for the general boating public: www.mariovittone.com.
A big trip is the first time you take your boat out of your familiar area of operation or into open water. Whenever you go somewhere you’ve not been before you’re embarking on a new learning experience. If it’s in your plans to cross a large body of water or an ocean one day, it’s a good idea to develop your skills gradually on increasingly longer cruises and passages, step-by-step to gain experience and confidence. Some boaters just get in and go off across the horizon and make it, despite the odds. On the other hand, you can gradually improve your skills until you are more competent than you realize and never cast off those dock lines, always feeling that you or the boat are not ready. Do a realistic assessment of the boat, yourself, and your crew’s skills. What’s left to learn or do that matters enough to keep you from going? You will learn as you go; experience is a great teacher. What if everything is not perfect? Let’s face it, nothing’s ever perfect on a boat! There’s always a first time for everything, and if you’ve done all you can to prepare yourself, the boat and your crew – go for it. The butterflies in the stomach will go away, and at your first new landfall (even if it’s just across a bay) you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. For good advice, read the article by Tom Neale: “Don’t shortcut the learning curve” at http://tinyurl.com/cvnkstr.
Long, well-written, detailed analysis by Thom Patterson on CNN.com about the sinking of the tall ship Bounty. http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2013/03/us/bounty/?hpt=hp_c1
Is a sailboat with a deep keel sailing along a shallow channel considered to be constrained by draft, according to the Navigation Rules? What about a 60ft/18m motor yacht with a fairly deep draft navigating along a shallow channel? What dayshape and lights does a CBD vessel display? See Rule 3(h) and Rule 28 of the International Navigation Rules at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent
Does a vessel that is constrained by draft have any special privileges regarding right of way with other vessels? See the blog post of 9/18/12.
As Hurricane Sandy drove northward along the U.S. east coast, the 52-year old wooden replica tall ship, Bounty, departed New London, CT on October 25, sailing southward. Five days later, the two met off Cape Hatteras, and Sandy won. Bounty sank and two lives were lost; a crewmember and the captain. Heroic efforts by Coast Guard helicopter crews rescued the other 14 crewmembers who had abandoned ship during the storm.
What does the loss of a 120 ft. wooden tall ship and movie prop (Mutiny on the Bounty, 1962) have to do with you if you operate or crew on a recreational sail or power vessel?
This tragedy is a story about human action, inaction, decision-making, and choices. These are part of our daily lives, too, at home and when we venture out on the water.
Mario Vittone, retired U.S. Coast Guard and Navy veteran, and a maritime safety authority, wrote an excellent series of articles summarizing each of the eight days of testimony at the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board Bounty hearings, Feb. 12 – 25, 2013.
These articles are available at http://gcaptain.com. They are not overly-technical, and they are gripping, fascinating reading. You don’t even have to know what a tall ship is to understand what happened, and to take away valuable lessons that apply to all boaters.
While it will be months before the official conclusions are drawn about the accident, Mr. Vittone’s reports reveal the record of action, inaction, decision-making and choices aboard Bounty.
1. The captain disregarded weather forecasts before and during the voyage. Sandy was very well tracked and reported by official government weather sources. There were 50 other tall ships situated on the U.S. east coast at this time and not one went to sea in the face of Sandy.
2. The captain ignored three opportunities during the voyage to divert to a safe harbor as the storm forecasts worsened. Available to Bounty in the prevailing wind and sea conditions were New York Harbor/ Hudson River, Delaware Bay and the C&D Canal, Chesapeake Bay at the southern entrance.
3. The crew failed to test essential systems before departure: engines, generators, bilge pumps, long-distance HF radio and Inmarsat-C communication equipment, and electrical systems. Apparently, the captain did not insist that tests be conducted.
4. No one kept maintenance records for engines, generators or bilge pumping systems. The engineer did not know the basics about diesel engines and could not describe the bilge pumping systems.
5. The captain decided to delay recommended repairs discovered in boatyard inspections prior to departure “until the next yard period.”
6. Critical hull maintenance was done by inexperienced crew who used methods and products for maintenance and repair recommended by the captain, some of which were not standard practice or recommended for marine use on wooden ships.
7. New crew was taught by inexperienced existing crew. For example, “Bosun A” had been aboard 16 months before he taught new person (“Bosun B”) the job of hull maintenance. Bosun B took over after 16 months of experience on Bounty’s hull.
8. Survey recommendations from one surveyor were not carried out, while another surveyor appears to have provided inadequate or incomplete vessel surveys.
9. The crew operated under “the illusion of experience.” Only two individuals (the captain and chief mate) had prior tall ship experience. The captain, with his 17 years of experience aboard Bounty, was revered as the expert, and no one else aboard (except, perhaps, the chief mate) had the knowledge or experience to question his decisions about the management, maintenance, or operation of the vessel. For six of the 14 survivors, Bounty was their first tall ship. One crewmember had five seasons aboard Bounty. The cook had 45 hours aboard Bounty before she abandoned ship with the others.
10. The hiring of inexperienced crew by the captain and the chief mate created a “system of incompetence” aboard the vessel. Mario Vittone says: “[Incompetence] was the unaccounted for 17th passenger that ended the life of the ship, of her captain, and of [crewmember] Claudene Christian.”
11. The crew was not trained in the use of the bilge pumps or the backup emergency pumps.
12. Design changes were made to Bounty in prior years that may have affected her stability.
13. The captain delayed the decision to abandon ship until the situation was grave. This delay forced the crew to abandon at night, with no time to prepare for an orderly evacuation of the vessel. Crewmembers were injured, and it is remarkable that more lives were not lost.
14. No Pan Pan radio call was made to the Coast Guard early in the crisis before the situation became a Mayday emergency. Bounty was taking on water fast when the weather worsened on Oct. 27, and early in the morning of the 28th the pumps couldn’t keep up. They abandoned ship on the 29th. Only the timely response and skill of the Coast Guard prevented more loss of life.
15. When the time for a Mayday came, the untested HF radio and the Inmarsat-C communication equipment was inoperable.
The lessons should be obvious:
1. Pay attention to the weather. You don’t need a storm forecast to tell you it’s better to stay in port. A forecast may turn out to be wrong, but sometimes it’s even worse out there.
2. When you plan a trip on the water, make notes about alternate harbors and routes, in case bad weather makes it uncomfortable or unsafe to proceed to your destination. Don’t hesitate to turn back or go to an alternate safe harbor.
3. Regularly maintain and test all critical systems aboard your boat: engine, bilge pumps, electrical system, communication equipment, emergency and safety equipment. This is basic seamanship.
4. Keep maintenance records for all boat systems.
5. Practice safety drills aboard your vessel and make sure everyone knows what to do and how to operate necessary equipment in an emergency.
6. Don’t hesitate to make a Pan Pan radio call in a difficult situation. The Coast Guard would like to be notified that you may need help BEFORE it turns into a Mayday. They can prepare to assist you if needed, and they may be able to assist on the radio to stabilize the situation.
7. Don’t assume that someone who has more experience than you knows everything. If you lack experience you are not in a position to judge. Yes, you have to rely on professionals and persons with experience, but sometimes it may be important to seek a second or third opinion about a person’s competence or decision-making, particularly where matters of vessel or personal safety are involved. Also, if something doesn’t seem right, maybe it isn’t. Use your intuition to question and seek answers.
Being a responsible skipper or crewmember involves educating yourself and learning as much as possible about the operation and maintenance of boats that you own or use. You don’t have to know how to do everything, but you need to understand what should be done, and then check that it is done properly to accepted standards of marine practice. When you are the person in charge of a vessel, you make decisions and choices that can affect the lives of other people.
(quotes are from Mr. Vittone’s articles. The interpretation of the information contained in his articles is mine.)
It’s a very useful electronic navigation aid in some, but not all waters. If your boating activities take place mainly in areas where there are few or no large vessels, AIS may be of minimal value. AIS transmitters send details about the vessels and navigation aids that are equipped with transmitters. AIS receivers display the information on a dedicated screen or as an overlay to interfaced electronic instruments, such as a chart plotter or radar. A recreational boat owner may choose either a receive-only AIS or an AIS that also transmits his/her vessel information. Various maritime authorities are considering making AIS mandatory on more types of small commercial vessels and possibly recreational boats. Take a look at the AIS entries on pp.13-14 in the Mariner’s Guide, read the articles in the boating press, and keep an eye out for future requirements for pleasure craft. For an interesting website that displays worldwide, real-time data from vessels equipped with AIS, see www.marinetraffic.com/ais
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.