Monthly Archives: February 2011

Florida Legislative Update Concerning PWCs

A personal watercraft.There are many PWC operators in Florida and PWC operators visiting Florida that will be effected by Senate bills that have been introduced that would increase the legal minimum age of those operating personal watercraft and that would decriminalize some boating infractions. These changes will be considered this legislative session.

Under Bill 370, a person would have to be 16 to operate a personal watercraft. The age now is 14.

The law also would require anyone operating such watercraft — often called by brand names such as Jet Skis or WaveRunners — born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, to have completed a boating safety course and have a boating safety identification card. That would conform to state law requiring anyone operating a motorboat of more than 10 horsepower to take the course if he or she were born on or after that date.

Meanwhile, Bill 512 with companion House Bill 293 eliminates criminal misdemeanor penalties of as much as $500 in fines and six months in jail for navigation rules violations, not involving the reckless operation of vessels, that result in accidents. Instead, the bill would levy fines for navigation infractions that cause accidents in which recklessness and alcohol are not involved.

The personal watercraft bill is being sponsored in memory of  a young PWC operator, who died at 14 from injuries after the personal watercraft he was operating crashed into a dock.

Statewide, there were 143 personal watercraft accidents with 152 injuries and one fatality in 2009 and 168 crashes with 152 and seven fatalities in 2008, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Overall, 42 people age 16 or younger were involved in personal watercraft crashes from 2006 to 2009. Statistics for 2010 are not yet available.

The Personal Watercraft Association of America, local rental businesses and owners said they favor increasing the minimum age.

“Fourteen is too young,” said T.J. Brandt, who rents personal watercraft at Mid Island Water Sports at the Holiday Inn on Fort Myers Beach. “These are high-speed jet boats that can go from 0 to 50 mph in 4.2 seconds.” Brandt said Mid Island requires people who rent a personal watercraft to be at least 16. Brandt said if they’re 16 to 22, they also must have taken the safe-boating course and show ID.

The national watercraft association takes the position the 14- and 15-year-olds who have taken the boating course should be grandfathered in, said Peggy Mathews, the Florida representative. Otherwise, the organization supports the bill, she said.

The Personal Watercraft Association of America, local rental businesses and owners said they favor increasing the minimum age.

Other legislation would NOT charge boaters in criminal court for mishaps not caused by willful recklessness.  The law would treat such accidents similar to parking lot fender benders. The law would levy fines for infractions causing accidents with damage. The fines would be up to $500 for first offenses, up to $750 for second offenses, and up to $1,000 for third and subsequent violations.

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Pilots, Boaters Adjust to Shift in Magnetic North

Blue lines show Earth's northern magnetic field and the magnetic north pole

Magnetic north, the point at the top of the Earth that determines compass headings, is shifting its position at a rate of about 40 miles per year. In geologic terms, it’s racing from the Arctic Ocean near Canada toward Russia.

 As a result, everyone who uses a compass, even as a backup to modern GPS navigation systems, needs to be aware of the shift, make adjustments or obtain updated charts to ensure they get where they intend to go, authorities say. That includes pilots, boaters and even hikers.

 Although the magnetic shift has little impact on the average person and presents no danger to the Earth overall, it is costing the aviation and marine industries millions of dollars to upgrade navigational systems and charts.

Why is magnetic north shifting?

The Earth’s core of hot liquid iron is constantly moving. That motion, combined with forces such as the Earth’s rotation, dictate the position of magnetic north, not to be confused with geographic north, or the North Pole.

“Magnetic north is shifting all the time; it’s a continuous process, not an event,” said Jeffrey Love, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey Geomagnetism Program, based in Golden, Colo.

Over the past century, the shift has been increasing in speed. It went from creeping as slow as nine miles per year in the early 1900s to more than 35 miles per year in the 2000s. However, that acceleration also is part of natural cycle, Love said. “In 10 to 20 years from now, it might be slowing down,” he said.

“Currently, the shift creates about a one-degree difference in compass direction every five years,” Love said.

The Federal Aviation Administration evaluates airport runway numbers every five years, said Kathleen Bergen, FAA spokeswoman.

The FAA could not say how many airports are affected. However, scores of large and small airports in the United States have either changed or plan to change their runways’ numbers, which are based on compass directions.

Because GPS navigation draws on satellites, it has no reliance on magnetic north. On the other hand, satellites and GPS systems can malfunction. For that reason all pilots and boaters should keep a compass handy as backup.

The magnetic compass is what gets you home in your boat or plane when everything else quits. It’s a very valuable piece of equipment but should not be relied on solely. Large ships and planes have sophisticated electronic navigation systems, but the vast majority of small boats and planes have magnetic compasses and rely on them heavily.

Boaters should always bring updated charts, showing the latest corrections for the magnetic north shift, even if they have a GPS.

To learn more about the using the magnetic compass to navigate, check out the Nautical Know How Coastal Navigation Course. You will learn all aspects of navigation including how to use your magnetic compass.

Humans aren’t the only ones affected by magnetic north. Birds that fly south for the winter and some sea turtles that migrate from Africa to South America must learn to adjust their senses so they end up migrating in the right direction.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Risk of Collision

Every means available shall be used to determine if risk of collision exists. This could be information from your lookout, radar, or other means. If there is any doubt as to the risk of collision, you should act as if it does exist and take appropriate action.

In determining if risk of collision exists, the following considerations shall be among those taken into account:

  • Risk of collision shall be deemed to exist if the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appear to change
  • Risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow, or when approaching a vessel at close range.
  • If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.
  • When maneuvering to prevent collision, do so early and make the maneuver large enough to be recognized the other vessel. Small alterations of course and/or speed should be avoided.

When two power driven vessels are in sight of one another and the possibility of collision exists, one vessel is designated by the rules as the stand-on vessel and the other is designated as the give-way vessel. The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. The give-way vessel must take early and substantial action to avoid collision.

If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, the stand-on vessel must act to avoid collision.

So, how do you know a risk of collision exists? An example: your boat and another boat are on a course with a constant bearing but a decreasing range. You are both heading to the same point at the same speed. The risk of collision exists if neither of you alter course and/or speed.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Safe Speed

Practicing the art of good seamanship is a talent that is developed over time by acquiring knowledge and skills. You must keep safety foremost in your mind when operating your boat. Do what you can to stay out of the way of other boats and always proceed at a safe speed.

The Rules of the Road provide consequences for any vessel owner, operator or crew who neglects to comply with the Rules.

It is your responsibility to act in a reasonable and prudent manner consistent with the ordinary practices of recreational boating. Safe speed means taking into consideration the current operating conditions and your own level of skill and experience.

To determine safe speed consider all of the following factors:

  • visibility: is it clear, overcast, foggy?
  • the density of boat traffic
  • the maneuverability of your vessel. Be sure to consider stopping distance and turning ability in the prevailing conditions
  • at night, does the presence of background light from shore affect your vision
  • the state of wind, sea and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards
  • your draft in relation to the available depth of water

Most specific speed regulations are local ordinances or state laws. Many states have speed and distance regulations that determine how close you can operate to other vessels, the shoreline or docking area, and swimming areas. For example, some state regulations require that you maintain a no-wake speed when within 250 feet of shore or when within 100 feet of another vessel. Be sure to check with state and local authorities to determine what regulations apply to you.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Proper Lookout

The rules are very specific about maintaining a proper lookout at all times. In fact the rules state Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

Pair of binoculorsWhat this means is that we must keep eyes and ears open to observe or hear something that may endanger someone or affect their safety. You must look up for bridge clearances and power lines, down for floats, swimmers, logs and divers flags and side to side for traffic prior to turning your boat. Additionally, it is also important to look behind you to see if any traffic is going to overtake you. A proper lookout can avoid collisions.

A good rule to follow is to assign one or more people to have no other assigned responsibilities except the task of lookout. They can then rotate the lookout duty.

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Safely Keeping Off the Chill

While ice has overtaken much of America’s northern waterways, recreational boating continues throughout the Southeast, Gulf and Western regions. Keeping the chill off at night when temperatures plummet often requires the need for boaters to keep warm, leading many to use portable electric heaters aboard their vessels. That, however, can lead to safety concerns.

Problems often come from the limitations of the boat’s own AC electrical system – also commonly called “shore power” and used while the boat is docked. Additionally, some portable heaters’ poor design features make them a bad choice for use aboard boats.

“Portable electric heaters can work well in a house, but putting them aboard a boat requires more vigilance,” said BoatUS Director of Damage Avoidance Bob Adriance. “Our boat insurance claims files show that fires often originate with boat’s electrical systems, as they can’t handle the high amperage. And some portable heaters don’t have tip-over switches that automatically shut them off after wave action knocks them over.”

BoatUS has these top four tips when using a portable electric heater:

  1. Turn if off: Never leave a portable electric heater on while you are away from the boat or when you go to bed.
  2. “Tip Over” switch is a must: Many portable heaters are not intended to be used for unstable locations and don’t have wide bases needed to keep them upright when another boat’s wake strikes your boat. Use only an electric heater with a tip-over switch that will shut off the heater automatically if it gets knocked over.
  3. Keep the heater separate: Never use another high-amperage appliance on the same receptacle with a portable electric heater.
  4. Don’t take the “Extension:” Never use an extension cord with an electric heater.

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Navigation Rules Series Part 2 – More Definitions – Sound Signals

Navigation rules require sound signals to be made under certain circumstances. Meeting, crossing and overtaking situations described in the Navigation Rules section are examples of when sound signals are required. Recreational boats are also required to sound signals during periods of reduced visibility.

Vessels 39.4 feet (12 meters) or more in length are required to carry a whistle or horn. Vessels less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length (including PWCs) may carry a whistle or horn or some other means to make an efficient sound signal audible for 1/2 mile.

Vessels 65.6 feet (20 meters) or more in length are required to carry a whistle or horn and a bell that are audible for 1 mile. Please note that the bell is no longer required on a boat 12 meters or more but less than 20 meters in length.

These requirements are to enable you to signal your intentions and to signal your position in periods of reduced visibility.

Every vessel is required to carry some kind of efficient sound producing device to signal their intentions as outlined below. Vessels are required to sound signals any time that they are in close quarters and risk of collision exists.

  • The term “short blast” means a blast of about one second.
  • The term “prolonged blast” means a blast of from four to six sconds.

The following signals are the only ones to be used to signal a vessel’s intentions ( inland rules only).

  • One short blast – I intend to change course to starboard.
  • Two short blasts – I intend to change course to port.
  • Three short blasts – I am operating astern propulsion (backing up).
  • Five or more short and rapid blasts – Danger or doubt signal (I don’t understand your intent).

Note: Inland rules use sound signals to indicate intent to maneuver and a response should be received. In International rules the signals are given when the maneuver is being executed.

Vessels indicate their intention to maneuver by using sound signals. If you do not agree with or understand clearly what the other vessel’s intentions are, you should sound the danger or doubt signal (5 short, rapid blasts). Each vessel should then slow or stop until signals for safe passing are sounded, understood and agreed to.

The danger or doubt signal can also be used to tell another vessel that its action is dangerous. If a boat is backing up into an obstruction you would sound the danger signal to warn the operator.

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