Monthly Archives: May 2010

Coast Guard Responds to tar balls in Key West

KEY WEST, Fla. – Coast Guard pollution investigators from Sector Key West responded to a report of twenty tar balls found on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West Monday.

Coast Guard Sector Key West received notification from the Florida Park Service around 5:15 p.m. Monday of twenty tar balls ranging in size from approximately three to eight inches in diameter.

Park rangers conducted a shoreline survey of Fort Zachary Taylor and the adjacent Navy beach at Truman Annex and recovered the tar balls at a rate of nearly three tar balls an hour throughout the day, with the heaviest concentration found at high tide, around 12:30 p.m.

Coast Guard pollution investigators from Sector Key West completed a subsequent shoreline survey of the area, and no additional tar balls were found.

Samples of the tar balls were collected and will be shipped to a laboratory for analysis to determine the origin of the source.

The Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries (NOAA-FKNMS) will continue to conduct shoreline surveys. Additionally, an aerial search utilizing a Coast Guard Helicopter with a trained pollution investigator on board will also be conducted.

The public is asked to report the sighting of any tar balls to the U.S. Coast Guard at 1 (800) 424-8802. Any oiled shorelines can be reported to 1 (866) 448-5816.

The public is reminded that tar balls are considered hazardous materials and should only be retrieved by trained personnel.

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USCG Warning For Certain DSC VHF Radios

All NEW fixed VHF radios are now required to include Digital Selective Calling (DSC) capability. If your DSC-equipped radio is interfaced with a GPS receiver it will be able to transmit your vessel ID number, your position and, with some higher-end radios, the nature of your distress call (undesignated, fire, flooding, collision, grounding, capsize, sinking, adrift, abandoning, piracy, MOB). In an emergency, one push of a button will make your DSC radio send an automated digital message on VHF Channel 70, which can be received by other DSC radio-equipped vessels and the Coast Guard. The radio will automatically change to Channel 16 for voice communication after this information has been sent, allowing you to communicate by voice with would-be rescuers.

However, it has come to the Coast Guard’s attention that an automatic channel switching feature found on certain models of Digital Selective Calling (DSC) equipped VHF marine radios may create an unintended hazard by automatically switching from a working channel that might be in use at the time to Channel 16 when the VHF marine radio receives a DSC distress alert, distress alert acknowledgment or other DSC call where a VHF channel number has been designated. This could happen without a vessel/radio operator’s immediate knowledge and could initiate an unsafe condition by which the vessel/radio operators would believe they were communicating on a working channel such as Channel 13 when, in fact, they were actually on Channel 16.

Imagine a towboat operator on the lower Mississippi River making passing agreements on VHF channel 67 and then suddenly, without warning, not being able to quickly reestablish communications with those vessels because his/her radio automatically switched to Channel 16 instead.

Since this unsafe condition can happen at any time, the Coast Guard strongly recommends disabling the automatic channel switching feature when maintaining a listening watch or communicating on the designated bridge-to-bridge radiotelephone, or while monitoring the vessel traffic services (VTS) channel. Radios that lack the disabling feature should not be used for bridge-to-bridge or VTS communications.

Below is the actual alert issued by the USCG.

*** Special Notice Regarding U.S. Coast Guard MARINE SAFETY ALERT

Certain models of Digital Selective Calling (DSC) equipped VHF maritime radios will automatically switch from a working channel to Channel 16 upon receipt of a DSC distress alert, distress alert acknowledgment and other DSC calls in which a channel number has been designated. A navigation safety hazard may consequently occur if the radio is being used to maintain a listening watch or to communicate on the designated bridge-to-bridge radiotelephone or vessel traffic services (VTS) monitoring channel. You may view updated information including a listing of manufacturers of radios believed to be affected by this Safety Alert by clicking this link.

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Unqualified Boaters Raise Concerns

Quebec’s Lifesaving Society is concerned about the number of people driving motorboats illegally, as the annual boating season gets underway.

Since September 15, 2009, the Canadian pleasure craft operator card has been mandatory for all Canadian boaters, but Quebecers have been slow in obtaining the permit, said the society’s executive director, Reynald Hawkins.

In order to obtain the card, boaters must take a 36-question test. A three- to four-hour course is recommended in order to prepare.

The goal of the card is to make sure that boaters have basic knowledge about water safety that could help save their lives, said Maryse Durette of Transport Canada.

“We want to prevent and help decrease the more than 100 deaths on our waterways every year in Canada,” said Durette.

Those caught driving a boat without the card face a $250 fine.

If you have been procrastinating and putting off getting your Canadian pleasure craft operator card, go to, start the course, then select Canada from the “Choose a State” drop down box. Canada is listed at the end of the list of states.

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Extreme kayak fishing

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Jobs Available for Oil Spill Cleanup

Coastal residents can seek jobs cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico directly through British Petroleum (BP PLC) or through third parties, but they will likely have to complete a rigorous training and application process to get hired.

The potential jobs come as many Gulf Coast residents are struggling financially. People employed in the seafood, boating and tourism industries face an uncertain future because of the oil spill.

To be eligible for most of the cleanup jobs, workers must complete Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training, often called HAZWOPER training. The courses can be as long as 40 hours.

British Petroleum (BP) is hiring owners of U.S. Coast Guard-inspected boats, and the boats’ crews. The boat must pass Coast Guard inspection and crew members must participate in multiple training courses to be hired. To register a boat, call 281-366-5511.

BP Pay Rates

  • Crew member (or ship captain): $200 each for an eight-hour day
  • Boats 30 feet or smaller: $1,200 per day
  • 30-foot to 45-foot boats: $1,500 per day
  • 45-foot to 65-foot boats: $2,000 per day
  • Boats 65 feet or larger: $3,000 per day
— Source: BP PLC

Additional sources to find employment include:

  • Some Labor Finders temp agency locations along the coast have cleanup jobs available for individuals. Visit a nearby location for more information.
  • New York-based Miller Environmental Group is seeking local workers for beach cleanup and can be contacted at 631-603-3533 or
  • The state of Alabama is also collecting resumes from potential workers. For more information, go to


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Fisherman’s Leg Severed In Boat Accident

The following are excerpts of an actual news story from the Miami Herald. I normally don’t repeat boating accident news but this particular event prompted me to emphasize a couple of basic boating safety concepts – “Propeller Strike” and “Circle of Death.”

A fisherman with multiple lacerations was airlifted last Friday after he was run over by his own boat. Witnesses said the fisherman was catching bait fish using a cast net, which was tied to his wrist.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said the net got stuck on something underneath the boat and pulled the fisherman under it. The net could have gotten stuck on the bottom or caught in his propeller.

Nearby fellow fishermen said the boat should have been anchored in order to use the casting net, but the boat was still in gear.  After the man was pulled in the water, the boat kept going around in circles.

Another witness reported that the victim’s leg was pretty well severed and it was just hanging. Authorities have not released the victim’s name or condition. He was operating the boat alone. Officials said that when you go out boating, it is always safer to have a partner.

Propeller Strike

Out of sight, out of mind might best describe a very serious hidden danger in boating. Because of the speed and torque, this hidden danger has the potential to kill, mangle or permanently disfigure an unsuspecting person in the water. That hidden danger is the boat engine propeller (“propeller strike”).

These blades are sharp

Operating below the water line, the propeller is not readily visible to the operator, passengers, swimmers, skiers, etc. Common propeller strike events include “crew-overboard” and/or “circle of death” incidents. If you have a “crew overboard” event, you should immediately turn toward the person in the water in order to push the stern in the opposite direction. Simultaneously, you should shift to neutral to stop the propeller from spinning.

Circle of Death

A “circle of death” event occurs when the operator goes overboard and/or loses control of the steering. Whether you have an outboard, I/O or inboard engine, your propeller most likely is designed to spin in a clockwise direction. This built-in prop pitch introduces “prop walk,” which, depending on the amount of throttle still applied when steering is lost, will cause the boat to circle. This circling action has the potential of creating a scenario where the operator, now in the water, is actually run over by the boat and potentially hit by the propeller.

To minimize the potential of someone being struck by the propeller use the following cautions:

  • Never run the engine while people are boarding or unboarding.
  • Make sure everyone on board is seated properly before starting the engine.
  • Do not allow passengers to stand, sit on the transom, gunwales, seat backs or bow while underway.
  • Do not operate within close proximity to people in the water. This includes swimmers, skiers, divers, etc.
  • Keep a sharp lookout.

There are devices designed to decrease the potential of “propeller strike”. These include:

  • Propellers guards, which fully or partially surround the propeller.
  • Interlocks which, if certain conditions exist, automatically shut off the engine.
  • Sensors that can be worn by individuals and electronically stop the engine, sound alarms, etc., if they go overboard.

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Coast Guard Lifts Recreational Boating Ban

The U. S. Coast Guard has canceled the safety zone on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers from mile marker 206 (Pickwick Landing) to mile marker 0 (Paducah, Ky.). Recreational boaters are allowed on all portions of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, including Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

Heavy rain falls throughout the Tennessee Valley necessitated record high-water discharge rates from dams along both river systems, which created hazardous river conditions for recreational vessels.

The Coast Guard would like to remind boaters to always wear life jackets; file a float plan with a family member, friend or marina; carry a marine radio; and possess emergency signaling devices. Vessels should operate at the slowest safe speed while transiting in and out of bays and marinas and remember that these extreme flows have made navigation buoys in the area unreliable.

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Another Interesting “Specialty” Boat

One never knows around here what might come floating along. This boat was observed near Portland, Maine. Notice he’s set up to pull lobster traps with the driver side front wheel. It appears he also has the proper navigation lights. This rig is a marvel of engineering and could be the answer to Detroit’s current problems. As the ancient saying says : As goes Maine so goes the Nation.

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How to Maneuver Around a Dredge

A couple of good friends of mine are currently underway on a month-long journey bringing their 54′  Trawler “Promise Promise” from West Palm Beach Florida to Camden Maine. Recently they ventured upon a dredge working in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). They were contacted by the dredge on the VHF radio with instructions on passing.

Could they have correctly decided on which side to pass if they were not contacted by the dredge?

For those of you who don’t know the answer to the above question and as a reminder to those who do, I offer the following from the Rules of the Road:

A vessel involved in dredging or underwater construction that has an obstruction on one side (such as pipe lines, suction lines or cutter arm) will warn approaching vessels away from that side by displaying two black balls during the day, one over the other.  At night, the vessel will show two all around red lights in a vertical line.

One the opposite side, if there is no obstruction, the dredge would carry two diamond shapes during the day, one over the other.  (“Diamonds are a boaters best friend”) At night, two all around green lights in a vertical line as an indication that this is the safe side to pass.

In addition, on the mast, the dredge would display the “restricted in the ability to manuever” indicators. That would be a black ball over which a diamond shape is displayed over which another black ball is displayed. At night this would be represented by 3 all around lights in a vertical line. The light configuration would be red over white over red.

See if you can spot the day shapes that are being displayed on the dredge below. With the exception of the “restricted in the ability to manuever” day shapes, with all the rigging it is difficult to see the 2 diamonds and the 2 balls.

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Help Prevent Pollution of Our Waters

Although it pales in comparison to the Gulf of Mexico spill, the following USCG News again points out that we all need to be mindful of polluting our waters.

Vaja Sikharulidze, 59, the Chief Engineer of the Motor Tanker Chem Faros, a 21,145 gross-ton ocean-going cargo ship has pleaded guilty to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, in violation of Title 33, United States Code, Sections 1901, et. seq.. The ship was operated by Cooperative Success Maritime SA and regularly transported cargo between various ports in Asia and the United States, to include Morehead City, N.C.

Oil-contaminated bilge waste can be discharged overboard if it is processed through on-board pollution prevention equipment known as the Oily Water Separator (OWS), which is used to separate the water from the oil and other wastes, and the effluent contains 15 parts per million or less of oil.

The investigation revealed that from March 4, through March 29, Sikharulidze, who had overall responsibility for the Engine Department, failed to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book for the disposals of oil residue and discharges overboard and disposals of oily sludges, oily mixtures, slops from bilges and bilge water that accumulated in machinery spaces. Specifically, the Oil Record Book failed to show discharges of oil-contaminated waste made without the use of the ship’s pollution prevention equipment.

Further, from September, 2009, until March 2010, engine department crew members pumped oil-contaminated waste directly overboard by using a pipe that by-passed the OWS. On at least one occasion between March 4, and March 29, Sikharulidze directed subordinate crew members to by-pass the ships’ OWS and pump oil-contaminated waste directly overboard. This resulted in approximately 13,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste to be discharged into the ocean.

At sentencing, Sikharulidze faces a maximum statutory penalty of up to six years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up $250,000 and up to three years supervised release.

Pollution Regulations

You might think that environmental regulations to protect the waters from pollution were enacted in recent years. In actuality, the “Refuse Act of 1899” was designed to prohibit throwing, discharging or depositing any refuse matter of any kind (including trash, garbage, oil and other liquid pollutants) into the waters of the United States.

Violators are subject to substantial civil penalties and/or criminal sanctions, including fine and imprisonment.

Oil and Hazardous Substances

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of oil or hazardous substances that may be harmful into U.S. navigable water. Boats 26 feet in length and longer must display a placard at least 5 by 8 inches, made of durable material, fixed in a conspicuous place in the machinery spaces or at the bilge pump control station, stating the following:

Regulations issued under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act require all boats with propulsion machinery to have a capacity to retain oily mixtures on board. A fixed or portable means to discharge oily waste to a reception facility is required. A bucket or bailer is suitable as a portable means of discharging oily waste on recreational watercraft. No person may intentionally drain oil or oily waste from any source into the bilge of any boat.

You must immediately notify the U.S. Coast Guard if your boat discharges oil or hazardous substances in the water. Call toll-free 800-424-8802 (In Washington, D.C. 202-267-2675). Report the following information:

  • location
  • source
  • size
  • color
  • substances
  • time observed

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