Friday, February 27, 2009

Small Boat Vessel Safety Checklist (VCS)

To determine if your recreational motorboat or sailboat meets Federal and State requirements, as well as recommended safety standards, contact the Coast Guard Auxiliary for a free Vessel Safety Check. Small commercial fishing vessels and vessels carrying six or fewer passengers for hire are also eligible for VSCs. A decal is awarded to boats that pass the examination. If your boat does not have the proper equipment, NO REPORT IS MADE TO ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITY. The Auxiliary examiner will advise you of the deficiencies so that you can correct them.
A vessel must meet the following Coast Guard Auxiliary standards for award of the VSC decal:
1. Numbering: The boat's registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat. They must be plane, vertical, block characters, not less than three (3) inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers. Place State tax stickers according to your state policy.

2. Registration / Document: Papers must be on board and agree with the Hull Identification (HIN) or Documentation Number. On documented pleasure vessels the hailing port, including city and state abbreviation, of not less than 4 inches in height must be on some clearly visible exterior part of the hull.

3. Personal Flotation Devices: PFDs shall be Coast Guard Approved, in good and serviceable condition, and of suitable size for the wearer. Boats less than 16 feet in length must be equipped with one wearable PFD for each person on board. Boats 16 feet and over must be equipped with one wearable PFD for each person plus one throwable.

4. Visual Distress Signals (VDS): All recreational boats used on coastal waters, Great Lakes, or the high seas, are required to carry Coast Guard Approved VDS. Vessel Safety Checks exceed the Federal Regulations by requiring vessels operating on inland waters to have a carry a suitable day and night VDS.

5. Fire Extinguishers: Vessel Safety Checks exceed the Federal Regulations by requiring that all vessels carry a minimum of one B-1 fire extinguisher.

6. Ventilation: Requirements are the same as the Federal Regulations.

7. Backfire Flame Arrestor: Vessel Safety Checks exceed the Federal Regulations by requiring all gasoline inboard and I/O motorboats, regardless of date of construction or engine installation, be equipped with a Coast Guard approved means of backfire flame control.

8. Sound Producing Devices: For compliance with "Navigation Rules" and for distress signaling purposes, all boats must carry some type of sound producing device capable of a 4 second blast audible for a half mile.

9. Navigation Lights: Vessels less than 16 feet in length are not required to have navigation lights. However, if the boat is equipped with them, they must be properly located and displayed.

10. Pollution Placards (Oily Waste Discharge): Vessels over 26 feet must display a placard, at least 5 by 8 inches, in a conspicuous place in the machinery spaces, or at the bilge pump control station.

11. MARPOL Trash Placard (Garbage Dumping Restrictions): United States vessels of 26 feet or longer must display in a prominent location, a durable placard at least 4 by 9 inches notifying the crew and passengers of the discharge restrictions.

12. Marine Sanitation Devises (MSDs): Recreational boats with installed toilet facilities must have an operable MSD. Vessels 65 feet and under must have either a type I, II, or III MSD and vessels over 65 feet must have either a type II or III MSD.

13. Navigation Rules: A current copy of the Navigation Rules (COMDTINST M16672.2D) must be carried onboard any vessel 39.4 feet and over.

14. State Requirements: State equipment requirements that pertain to basic safety and exceed standard VSC requirements will be also be checked by the Auxiliary vessel examiner and must be met before a VSC decal can be awarded.

15. General Condition: Also known as "seaworthiness". The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition with the bilges reasonably clean and the visible hull and structure generally sound. The maximum passenger capacity and horsepower must not be exceeded.

Other Checks:
a. Galley Equipment: Appliances and their fuel tanks must be properly secured, and the system must not leak. There must be no flammable material in the vicinity of stoves or heaters. Adequate ventilation must be provided for appliances and their fuel supply. Appliance fuel shut off valves must be readily accessible. Only common appliance fuel may be used on vessels. Gasoline, naphtha, and benzene are not allowed due to their highly volatile nature.

b. Electrical: Wiring must be in good condition and properly installed. No exposed areas or deteriorated insulation is permitted. The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual resetting circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or spray. Batteries must be secured to prevent movement and the terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing. In addition to the above requirements, the Auxiliary also recommends the following to receive a VSC Decal:

1. Fuel Systems: Portable fuel tanks (7 gallon capacity or less) must be constructed of sturdy non-breakable material and in good condition. Tanks shall be free of excessive corrosion and must not leak. Vents must be capable of being closed and the tank must have a vapor-tight, leak-proof cap. All tanks must be properly secured in the boat to prevent excessive movement. Permanent fuel tanks (over 7 gallon capacity) and fuel lines must be free of excessive corrosion and not leak. Fuel tanks must be secured and grounded. The fuel fill pipe must be tightly fitted to the fill plate and located outside the hull, where any spilled fuel will be directed overboard. A vent terminating outboard of the hull and compartments must lead to each permanent fuel tank.

2. Anchor and Anchor Line: The boat should be equipped with an adequate anchor and a line of suitable size and length for locality.

3. Alternate Propulsion: All boats less than 16 feet in length should carry a second method of propulsion such as a paddle, oar, etc.). If an alternate means of mechanical propulsion is carried, it must use separate fuel and starting source from the main propulsion motor.

4. De-watering Device: All boats should carry at least one effective manual de-watering device. This requirement is in addition to any installed electrical bilge pump that the vessel may have on board. To request a Vessel Safety Check, contact your local Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Weather for the Small Boat

You should never leave the dock without first checking the local weather forecast. You can get the weather information from the TV, radio, local newspaper, on-line, or from one of the weather channels on your VHF radio. At certain times of the year weather can change rapidly and you should continually keep a "weather eye" out. While you are out in a boat here are a few signs you can look for that indicate an approaching weather change:

1. Weather changes generally come from the west. Scan the sky with your weather eye, especially to the west.

2. Watch for clouds to build up, especially rapid vertically rising clouds.

3. Sudden drop in temperature.

4. Sudden change in wind direction and or speed.

5. If you have a barometer on your boat, check it every 2 to 3 hours. A rising barometer indicates fair weather and rise in wind velocity, a falling barometer indicates stormy or rainy weather.

What To Do in Severe Weather
1. Reduce speed, but keep just enough power to maintain headway.

2. Put on your PFDs.

3. Turn on running lights.

4. Head for nearest shore that is safe to approach, if possible.

5. Head bow of boat into the waves at about a 45 degree angle.

6. Keep bilges free of water.

7. Seat passengers on bottom of boat near centerline.

8. If your engine fails, trail a sea anchor on a line from the bow to keep the boat headed into the waves. A bucket will work as a sea anchor in an emergency.

9. Anchor the boat if necessary.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fueling Small Boats

Most fires and explosions happen during or after fueling. To prevent an accident, follow these rules:
1. Portable tanks should be refueled ashore.
2. Close all hatches and other openings before fueling.
3. Extinguish all smoking materials.
4. Turn off engines, all electrical equipment, radios, stoves and other appliances.
5. Remove all passengers.
6. Keep the fill nozzle in contact with the tank and wipe up any spilled fuel.
7. Open all ports, hatches and doors to ventilate.
8. Run the blower for at least four minutes.
9. Check the bilges for fuel vapors before starting the engine.
10. Do the "sniff test". Sniff around to make sure there is no odor of gasoline anywhere in the boat. Do not start the engine until all traces of fuel vapors are eliminated.

Fuel Management
Practice the "One-Third Rule" by using:
1. One-third of the fuel going out
2. One-third to get back and
3. One-third in reserve

Friday, February 13, 2009

Anchoring your Small Boat

Anchoring is done for two principal reasons: first, to stop for fishing, swimming, lunch, or an overnight stay and secondly, to keep you from running aground in bad weather or as a result of engine failure. Anchoring can be a simple task if you follow some guide lines:

1. Make sure you have the proper type of anchor (danforth,plow,mushroom).

2. A three to six foot length of galvanized chain should be attached to the anchor. The chain will stand up to the abrasion of sand, rock or mud on the bottom much better than a fiber line.

3. A suitable length of nylon anchor line should be attached to the end of the chain (this combination is called the "Rode". The nylon will stretch under heavy strain cushioning the impact of the waves or wind on the boat and the anchor.

4. Select an area that offers maximum shelter from wind, current and boat traffic.

5. Determine depth of water and type of bottom (preferably sand or mud).

6. Calculate the amount of anchor line you will need. General rule: 5 to 7 times as much anchor line as the depth of water plus the distance from the water to where the anchor will attach to the bow. For example, if the water depth is 8 feet and it is 2 feet from the top of water to your bow cleat, you would multiply 10 feet by 5 to 7 to get the amount of anchor line to put out

7. Secure the anchor line to the bow cleat at the point you want it to stop.

8. Bring the bow of the vessel into the wind or current.

9. When you get to the spot you want to anchor, place the engine in neutral.

10. When the boat comes to a stop, slowly lower the anchor. Do not throw the anchor over as it tends to entangle the anchor line.

11. When all anchor line has been let out, back down on the anchor with engine in idle reverse to help set the anchor.

12. When anchor is firmly set, use reference points (landmarks) in relation to the boat to make sure you are not drifting. Check these points frequently. Do not anchor by the Stern. Anchoring a small boat by the stern has caused many to quickly capsize and sink. The transom is usually squared off and has less freeboard than the bow. In a current, the force of the water can pull the stern under. The boat is also vulnerable to swamping by wave action. The weight of a motor, fuel tank, or other gear in the stern increases the risk.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Aids to Navigation

The aids to navigation depicted on charts comprise a system of fixed and floating aids that have varying degrees of reliability. Do not rely solely on any single aid to navigation, particularly a floating aid. The buoy symbol is used to indicate the approximate position of the buoy body and sinker, which secures the buoy to the seabed. The approximate position is used because of practical limitations in positioning and maintaining buoys and their sinkers in precise geographical locations. These limitations include, but are not limited to, inherent imprecision in position fixing methods, prevailing atmospheric and sea conditions, the slope and the material making up the seabed, the fact that the buoys are moored to sinkers by varying lengths of chain, and the fact that buoy body and or sinker positions are not under continuous surveillance but are normally checked only during periodic maintenance visits which occur more than a year apart. Due to the forces of nature, the position of the buoy body can be expected to shift inside and outside the charting symbol. The mariner is also cautioned that buoys are liable to be carried away, shifted, capsized, sunk, etc. Lighted buoys may be extinguished or sound signals may not function as the result of ice, running ice or other natural causes, collisions, or other accidents. For the foregoing reasons, a prudent mariner must not rely solely upon the position or operation of floating aids to navigation, but must also utilize bearings from fixed objects and aids to navigation on shore. A vessel attempting to pass close aboard always risks collision with a yawing buoy or with the obstruction the buoy may be marking.

Due to severe weather conditions and reduced vessel traffic during the winter, numerous aids to navigation lights, buoys, fog signals) are seasonally discontinued, withdrawn, or replaced by smaller aids. These changes occur at regular intervals each year. The approximate dates are specified in the Light List, the date seasonal aids are deployed may also be printed on nautical charts produced by the National Ocean Service. The actual dates the aids are deployed may be changed due to adverse weather or other conditions. Mariners should consult the Coast Guard's Local Notices to Mariners and listen to Broadcast Notices to Mariners for the latest information.

Courses should invariably be set to pass offshore aids to navigation with sufficient clearance to avoid the possibility of collision or grounding. Errors of observation, current and wind effects, other vessels in the vicinity, and defects in steering gear may be, and have been, the cause of actual collisions, or damage to these important aids to navigation. Experience shows that buoys cannot be safely used as leading marks to be passed close aboard, and should always be left well off the course whenever sea room permits. It should be borne in mind that most large buoys are anchored by a very long scope of chain and, as a result, the radius of their watch circle is considerable. The charted position is the approximate location. Under certain conditions of wind and current, they are subject to sudden and unexpected sheers, which are certain to be a hazard to a vessel attempting to pass close aboard.

Frequently Coast Guard operated aids to navigation are damaged, defaced, or destroyed by vandals. This type of activity not only creates a serious condition for the mariner, but also increases the cost to you the taxpayer. The primary targets for vandals are usually buoys and lights on structures located on the ends of jetties and breakwaters. Federal laws provide that those apprehended defacing or destroying a Federal aid to navigation shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and are subject to a fine of up to $2,500, or not less than $500, imprisonment or both plus repair cost. Those providing information leading to a conviction may be paid one half of such a fine. Report sightings of any vandalism to the your nearest Coast Guard unit.