With approximately 75 participants logged in for a recent boat-safety seminar, the Buzzards Bay Coalition could say it was a grand success. But success can only truly be measured by whether or not an objective was achieved, and for that, it comes down to individual responsibility.
That point and many safety-related points were the main features of the Introduction to Basic Boat Safety with Coast Guard Auxiliary member Neil O’Brien, who wasted no time in what he emphasized was a very brief overview of basic boat safety, not a certificate course.
O’Brien started with a story— a true story with an unfortunate ending. He recalled the tragic event of a July summer’s day in 2017 when a sailboat, severely overloaded with 12 people, nine of whom were children, swamped off Hog Island in Wareham, tossing all aboard into the choppy waters of Buzzards Bay.
The boat was only 18 feet long and not designed to handle the changeable currents and late-afternoon chop, especially when overloaded and captained by an inexperienced pilot. O’Brien said that the current in Buzzards Bay changes four times a day and that experienced boaters know to expect rising choppy waves and strong current flow. On that day, fate was not kind.
When all the passengers were tossed in the water, a mother and father realized their 8-year-old boy was trapped under the overturned boat. The child would not survive the ordeal, despite wearing a life vest.
Moral of the story: Become a certified operator if you plan on boating.
“Know before you go,” O’Brien stated, meaning study the weather forecasts and keep a checklist of the necessary equipment to ensure you have everything you need before setting out on the water. He said that “operator experience” is probably the single most crucial aspect of boating, along with situational awareness— know what’s around you at all times).
While operating a vessel, “Don’t drink alcohol,” he stressed. O’Brien said that 80 percent of fatal boating accidents could be chalked up to an inexperienced pilot, often coupled with alcohol consumption.
Federal law mandates that all children under the age of 13 must wear a personal floatage jacket. Still, the USCG suggests all passengers wear them, “in spite of the discomfort,” said O’Brien.
From there, O’Brien moved on to aids to navigation, aka ATONs. He explained that channel markers are directives on which way to enter and leave a channel. For example, red markers shaped like nuns’ hats on the right side indicate “red-right-returning” and bear an even-numbered sequence. On the left side for heading out of a channel, “cans” with flat tops are green with an odd-numbered sequence. Mid-channel markers show white and red.
The ship itself has vernacular relating to the front (bow), back (stern), right side (starboard), and left (port).
Before delving into navigational rules, O’Brien said that any boat over 40 feet long is required to keep a complete set of NAVRULES onboard, which govern the actions of captains and pilots. He then moved on to rules of action, or which boat has the right-of-way.
“You are at all times required to avoid a collision,” O’Brien began. There is a “Hierarchy of Maneuverability” to help ensure that is the case. The number one class of boat that must give way first— that is, move out of the way of an oncoming boat— are power-driven vessels. Because they are engine-propelled, it stands to reason that these vessels would be better equipped to maneuver out of the way versus a sailboat, for instance.
A sailing vessel underway falls to second place in removing itself from harm’s way before creating a hazardous situation. Next would be any vessel engaged in fishing activities, followed by any vessels with restricted maneuverability, such as commercial craft or tugboats engaged in pulling or pushing activities. Last on the list seems obvious, but when it comes to safety, nothing should be left to chance; that is a vessel not under command, or no one is operating the craft.
O’Brien said the rules associated with the Hierarchy of Maneuverability are essential in our part of the coastline due to the amount of commercial activity taking place in Buzzards Bay. With this in mind, he talked about the type of lights displayed by working vessels such as tugboats. If a tug is pulling something, it will have three white lights above the cabin; if pushing, it will show two white lights, and there will also be sidelights and stern lights.
Moving on to what can be one of the most dangerous aspects of owning and or operating a boat, O’Brien talked about fueling a vessel. Before embarking on this most important topic, however, he shared another cautionary tale.
O’Brien said he had witnessed a dockside gasoline explosion. He observed several noticeably intoxicated men on the fueling dock. The ignition of the gasoline fumes somehow happened, blowing the horribly injured boaters into the water, thus illustrating the importance of following all the fueling rules.
The rules are: Close all doors and hatches before fueling and have all.
By Marilou Newell