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United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

Photo courtesy of Herb Herman

It’s official — the boating season starts on Memorial Day, May 27. Here’s some tips for you before taking your vessel crashing over
the waves.

You get the family in the car and go to the marina, but being a responsible boater, first of all you check the weather forecast and make sure that you won’t face any surprises out on the water. You get to the boat and go through the required check-off items: the fuel level, check oil, Nav-lights in order, see that the personal flotation devices are in the right place — at least one per person and easily accessible in an emergency, set up the anchor for easy deployment, flares and other emergency items in order and handheld VHF radio charged and readily available. You will have an up-to-date first aid kit on board. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

Assuming you are a responsible boater, the final thing to do before you cast off is to inform the passengers and crew as to where the emergency items are and where and how to don the PFDs. And if you are a diligent boater, you file a float plan with friends, so that in the eventuality you aren’t where you’re supposed to be in the coming days, they can inform the Coast Guard of a potential problem.

All of the above seems like a lot of hard work to go out for a day trip to the local anchorage, but with some experience and perhaps some nasty events you will tend to do these things automatically. Better yet, have an actual check-off list so you forget nothing. Then you’ll have a fine day to go boating.

Added to the above list should be what the Coast Guard teaches — rather preaches — to its boat crews and to the Coast Guard Auxiliary as well:

The USCG boating statistics for the U.S. in 2017 are as follows:

• Fatalities: 658 

• Drownings: 449 

• Injuries (requiring medical treatment beyond first aid): 2,629 

• Boating accidents: 4,291 

• Property damage: Approximately $46 million 

• Number of registered recreational boats in the U.S.: 11,961,568 

Situational awareness, that is, what’s going on around you. In the parlance of the local guru, it’s called mindfulness, or the state of knowing the environment in which your boat plows. These include water state, weather — both now and what’s coming — wind, other boats and buoys, and all the impediments that exist on local waters. It’s important to have a designated lookout in case someone falls overboard. 

Above all, know the rules of the road, or the elements that dictate, mainly through common sense, what to do when boats approach one another. This covers a myriad of circumstances in which both professionals and amateurs alike find themselves. These regulations, also known as COLREGS, are devised to avoid collisions at sea. The main elements should be learned either by way of courses given by various authorities, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, or through a variety of books and videos. The Port Jefferson auxiliary gives a Safe Boating Course as well as a course entitled Suddenly in Command, conveying essential know-how when the second-in-command must take over the running of the boat.

You will, of course, have a nautical chart available for the waters in which you wish to sail. The chart, unlike a land road map, gives you broad swaths of safe passages and also tells you which regions to avoid due to shallow depths, rocks and a wide range of impediments. One can navigate using charts — themselves marvels of information collected over years of careful observations by mainly government vessels — your key to safety and enjoyment on the water, whether you’re out for a day or on a longer passage. 

If you’re a power boater or a sailor with an accessory motor, you should know something about the innards of the beast. Have you enough fuel for your planned voyage (boats frequently have notoriously inaccurate fuel gauges). Will you check the oil dip-stick, or do you assume that the marina personnel does that for you? Note they won’t unless you ask them to. Are all your oil, water, fuel and water filters clean and can you change-out a clogged filter? Water cooling sea cocks open? Can you troubleshoot easy problems and do you have the essential tools for such work? Most aspects of inboard and outboard motors can be handled by a layman with a little study. A quick course on troubleshooting your power plant by the marina mechanic can really payoff. Don’t forget that emergency “road side” help from Sea Tow or Boat US can save the day.

Paddle craft safety is of growing concern to the Coast Guard, with over 20 million Americans enjoying the sport. According to industry figures, some 100,000 canoes, 350,000 kayaks and an increasingly large number of stand-up paddlers are sold annually. A tragic consequence of these large numbers is that as of 2015, 29 percent of boating deaths were related to paddle craft. In response, the USCG has generated a Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check, which is administered free by a USCG-approved vessel examiner, such as Coast Guard auxiliary personnel. Paddle crafters should wear PFDs and have a sound producing device, such as a whistle.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

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A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

The Port Jefferson flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has been designated flotilla of the year. This is an award presented to the flotilla by the auxiliary’s 22nd Division of the 1st Southern Region of the Auxiliary. The 22 Division includes the auxiliary’s seven flotillas on Long Island, all of which report to the Coast Guard station at Eaton’s Neck.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, created by an act of Congress in 1939, is an all-volunteer civilian branch of the Coast Guard, acting as a “force multiplier,” where auxiliary members, both men and women, frequently aid the Coast Guard in wide-ranging activities. At Coast Guard stations around the country, auxiliary members carry out watch standing, that is, they will engage in communication management for a Coast Guard station. Frequently, they work in the stations’ kitchens, helping in food preparation and service. 

Many auxiliary members are talented craftspeople and will frequently work to support and improve Coast Guard station facilities.

Some 28,000 auxiliary members contribute more than 4.5 million hours of service each year and complete nearly 500,000 boating safety patrol missions to support the Coast Guard. Every year auxiliarists help to save some 500 lives, assist 15,000 distressed boaters, and provide boater safety instruction to more than 500,000 students, adults and children alike. In total, the Coast Guard Auxiliary saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The Port Jefferson USCG Auxiliary Flotilla, 1st Southern District 14, Division 22, Flotilla 06, was founded in 2003 and now has 29 members. Since its founding, the flotilla has been active in boater education and in patrols within the Long Island Sound and in the Port Jefferson Harbor and Mount Sinai areas. Additionally, in this era of deep concern about terrorism, the flotilla engages in a program to inspect the marine-related facilities and the Port Jefferson Harbor infrastructure in order to discover and to report to the Coast Guard any vulnerability in the marine area. The Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry is of particular interest to the Coast Guard and to the auxiliary. 

The Port Jefferson flotilla, as well as the other six flotillas in Division 22 on Long Island, is actively recruiting men and women of all ages who want to serve their community and country in this unique way. Interested parties are invited to attend meetings, which are held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club on Surf Road at Port Jefferson Harbor. Doors open at 7 p.m. and call to order is at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the activities of the Port Jefferson Flotilla visit www.cgapj.org, email [email protected] or call 631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

A paddleboard race takes off in Port Jefferson Harbor during the annual Boater's Maritime Festival on June 6, 2015. File photo by Bob Savage

By Herb Herman

There is something special about being in a paddle boat quietly gliding along in the water without disturbing wildlife and taking the opportunity to think about nature.

Additionally, paddling represents a great opportunity to exercise the arms and the upper body. However, all of this growth in paddle sports has a dark side. Unlike power boats, with the growth in paddle craft, the number of fatalities has gone up. In 2015, 29 percent of boating deaths were paddle craft related. In 2016, fatalities climbed even higher. The Coast Guard Auxiliary Strategic Plan for 2018 focuses efforts on addressing the problem by extending information to the paddle craft community.  Additionally, the USCG has generated a Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check, which is administered by a USCG approved vessel examiner, such as Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel.

USCG vessels. File Photo

The problem with paddle boat safety starts at the retailer from which the crafts are purchased. In sales of power and sailboats, a safety package is commonly included with a new boat purchase, and there are, more likely than not, state’s boating regulations requiring boaters to take state sanctioned courses. This is certainly true of New York state. This has led to more knowledgeable boaters on the water.

In the case of paddle boating, crafts can be purchased online or at big box stores where little or no concern is given to handling and safety on the water.

“Safety equipment offered for sale may be generic rather than specific to location, and the sales personnel may or may not be knowledgeable about local needs,” said Don Goff, the national commodore’s senior advisor for paddle craft. “Many retailers do not have safety equipment specific to paddlers, including distress flags, floatable marine radios, personal locator beacons, and deck lines.”

Paddle craft boating is especially dangerous in a crowded mooring field, where all sorts of craft are maneuvering, and the paddle boater can be surprised by a power boat leaving or seeking a mooring. This problem can also occur in areas that are popular for anchoring. Channels used by ferries can present special challenges for paddlers, due to the limitations in maneuverability of large crafts. It should be remembered by paddlers and small boat operators generally that sailboats underway have limitations in their ability to maneuver and this can lead to collisions. Small fishing boats are frequently overloaded and positioned in the vicinity of harbor entrances and channels, where there is considerable boating traffic. Dangers exist for such boats to be overwhelmed by passing power boats. Of course, all small crafts are particularly vulnerable to changeable weather conditions, and just as any boater should, one must exercise extreme caution in developing bad weather conditions.

“Safety equipment offered for sale may be generic rather than specific to location, and the sales personnel may or may not be knowledgeable about local needs.”

— Don Goff

To alleviate many problems faced in these small craft, users should at least wear personal flotation devices and have a sound-producing device, such as a whistle. Among other requirements, each paddler 13 years of age or older must have a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V personal flotation device. It doesn’t have to be worn, although that’s certainly the wisest plan and one that is strongly recommended. A child 12 years old or younger must wear a USCG-approved personal flotation device. The jacket must be in “serviceable condition,” without rips, tears or deterioration that will diminish its performance. A Type V jacket can be used as long as it’s USCG-approved and applicable for the activity. Belt pouch-type inflatable personal flotation devices, must be worn on the person to meet the life jacket regulation.

Those on the water after sunset need to have a flashlight, or similar lighting device, to warn other boaters. As the operator of a vessel, you need to follow the navigation rules. Boaters are also required to report any boating accident or injury to the local reporting authority, either the USCG or other agency that has been delegated that authority.

Above all, when you’re on the water in any kind of craft, be alert and exercise awareness of your environment. Boating can be a highly pleasurable activity when common sense rules are adhered to.

To have your vessel inspected by an Auxiliary member contact the Port Jefferson flotilla by email at [email protected] or by calling 631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the Flotilla Staff Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Southern District of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Like driving a car, there are rules and regulations that boaters need to follow. Stock photo

By Herb Herman

Insurance companies recognize that a defensive driving course will make for better automobile drivers. So why not a defensive boating course for the New York State boating community? Perhaps marine insurance companies will give boaters a break in the same way that they discount premiums for drivers who take defensive automobile driving courses. The states of Florida and Kentucky already have such courses, which give the same benefits as defensive driving courses.

We all know that pleasure boating can be great fun, as well as dangerous. In many ways, boating is comparable to driving. Both boats and cars require that the driver pay keen attention and have a strong sense of “situational awareness.” In both cases, we should be cognizant of our surroundings, and to other cars or other boats.

Boating Courses

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: Local flotillas offer a variety of safety classes, including basic/introductory boating courses and safety courses, navigation, sailing and personal watercraft safety, among others. The Port Jefferson flotilla offers a range of boating safety courses

U.S. Power Squadron: Offers a wide range of boating courses.

American Boat Operators’ Course: Offers online boating safety courses with online certification tests for a number of states.

Boat/U.S. Foundation Courseline: The Courseline is a searchable database of current boating safety courses around the nation.

BoaterExam.com: Offers online boating safety courses with online certification tests for a number of states.

Boatsafe: Offers an online Basic Boating Certification Course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, and a Coastal Navigation Course.

PWC Safety School: Offers online courses and certification for PWC operators in several states

State Courses: Many states offer boating safety courses. The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ online Directory provides contact information for state boating agencies.

To contact the Port Jefferson Flotilla about boating courses, use the following for a prompt reply: [email protected]. Our voicemail number is 631-938-1705.

In fact, it can be argued that pedestrians for cars are analogous to paddle boaters for powerboat drivers. In boating as in driving there are “rules of the road,” the breaking of which can lead to vehicle damage and in the worst cases loss of life. We have air bags and personal floatation devices. There are Very High Frequency radios for boats and cars have horns. Driving under the influence clearly applies to both driving cars and piloting boats: the practice is dangerous and the penalties can be severe. It is becoming more common to read about high speed boats crashing into other boats or breakwaters, where a driver is “boating under the influence.” Texting while driving is particularly dangerous, whether in a car going 30 mph or in a speed boat flying through the water at 30 mph.

But the analogy fails when we compare road maps to nautical charts. While road maps restrict us to clearly narrow paths of driving, charts for boats allow “freedom of expression” on the part of the boat driver. On the other hand, there are limits for boaters as well, being greeted with signs indicating “no wake,” and on charts indicating rocks, wrecks, buoys, marked swim areas, etc. In fog, one drives cars slower and puts on fog lights, where-as, on the water radar is used together with a bell or horn while carefully listening for other boats.

Defensive boaters generally adhere to “rules of the road” and International Maritime Organization’s COLREGS, or Conventions on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, established in 1972. These rules are very real regulations promulgated by the United States Coast Guard, which must be observed by both pleasure boaters and professional captains. These rules refer to collision avoidance regulations, which are considered to have legal basis just as automobile traffic laws determine right and wrong in courts of law. To obtain a captain’s license you must know these regulations by heart; they are the traffic laws on the water, whether on a river, lake or at sea.

Boating accidents occur too commonly, making one wonder why licensing is not required of boaters. More recently, in fact, minimum operational documentation is required for boaters, whether using a stand-up paddle or piloting a 60-foot yacht. Courses do exist, and most states demand some knowledge of the nautical rules. A variety of organizations offer certified courses. For example, the USCG Auxiliary Port Jefferson Flotilla offers a range of study programs, including “America’s Boating Course” and  “Suddenly in Command,” aimed at a passenger should the vessel operator become disabled.

Herb Herman is the Flotilla Staff Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Southern District of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary.

The boating regulations for New York State include the following:

Effective May 1, 2014: All individuals born on or after May 1, 1996, are now required to successfully complete an approved course in boater education in order to operate a motorboat. Approved courses include those offered by NYS Parks, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadron. Individuals less than 10 years of age may not take this course of instruction. Certain allowances to this law have been made for visitors to New York, persons renting a boat from a livery and persons purchasing a new boat for the first time.

Life Jacket Law for Children Under 12: Any youth under the age of 12 on boats 65 feet or less in length must wear securely fastened U.S. Coast Guard approved personal floatation device of appropriate size. It does not apply if the youth is in a fully-enclosed cabin.

Cold Weather Boaters – Personal Flotation Device Laws: Anyone underway in a boat less than 21 feet in length anytime between November 1 and May 1 must wear a securely fastened life jacket. This includes paddle boats and motorboats.

USCG vessels. File Photo

Personal Watercraft operators must:

  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard PFD
  • Carry a U.S. Coast Guard approved visual distress signal
  • Carry a sound signaling device capable of a two second blast, audible at least 1/2 mile
  • Engine Cutoff if so equipped must be functional and attached to the rider.

Personal Watercraft operators may not:

  • Operate a PWC under the age of 14
  • Operate in excess of 5 mph within 100 feet of shore, a dock, float or anchored boat
  • Operate within 500 feet of a marked swim area
  • Operate between sunset and sunrise
  • Operate in a reckless manner and carrying more passengers than is recommend by the manufacturer

Mandatory Education Requirements for PWC operators: New York requires that anyone operating a personal watercraft complete an approved course in boating safety or otherwise be accompanied, on board, by someone 18 years of age or older who is the holder of an approved boating safety certificate. Certificates are required to be carried at all times when operating the personal watercraft.

Water Skiing: On the navigable waters of NYS, any vessel towing a water skier, parasail, or other similar device must have on board, in addition to the operator, an observer who is specifically charged with watching out for the person towed. The observer must be at least 10 years of age. Waterskiing and similar towed activities are limited to the hours between sunrise and sunset, provided that visibility is not reduced. Anyone towed by a vessel must wear a securely fastened U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD. This includes those on water skis, inner tubes, parasails, inflatable devices, to name a few. The preferred PFD for these activities is the type III special purpose device as it is impact rated, form fitting, and generally affords better visibility for the skier. Remember the skier is considered a passenger and is to be counted against the maximum passengers allowed. Exceeding that number can be considered reckless operation.