Monthly Archives: May 2011

GPS Signals in Jeopardy?

A recent FCC decision to allow high-speed internet and cell phone service to use frequencies close to existing GPS radio frequencies could disrupt GPS signals and cause severe interference to a wide range of GPS receivers, including those used by boaters. On January 26, the FCC gave conditional approval to a private company, LightSquared, to build 40,000 ground stations within the U.S. that would transmit high powered signals in the middle of the existing satellite band of frequencies.

 “This could lead to loss of critical navigation information in certain areas,” reports BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich. “Fortunately, this unusual decision has some members of Congress as well as an array of user groups – including boaters – concerned.

 Podlich said Senators Pat Roberts of Kansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter to other Senators that asks the FCC to better analyze the potential impact the action could have on GPS signals, before allowing LightSquared to move forward with the plan in June.

“We’d like to ask BoatUS Members and boaters at large to contact your two Senators and ask them to sign on to the Roberts-Nelson GPS letter. You can easily email them by going to

While several regulatory hurdles still remain, LightSquared’s new service could begin as early as this summer. BoatUS has joined with a diverse group of associations and companies asking the FCC to reconsider. To learn more about the issue you can visit

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Spring Time Boating Dangers – Thunderstorms & Lightning

With all the severe weather we have been seeing on the news we need to remind boaters that spring is the time that boaters need to be especially aware of the weather conditions. You can get weather information from TV, radio 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 in order to foresee changes which might be impending.

Certain signs you can look for indicate an approaching weather change:

  • Although weather changes generally come from the west, you should be observant of weather from all directions, so scan the sky with your weather eye, especially to the west.
  • A sudden drop in temperature and change in the wind often mean that a storm is near.
  • If you have a barometer on your boat, check it every two to three hours. A rapid drop in pressure means a storm is approaching.
  • Watch for cloud build up, especially rapid, vertically rising clouds. Be alert for the sound of thunder.
  • Watch for lightning and rough water. Remember that boats, particularly sailboats, are vulnerable to lightning if not grounded.

Thunderstorms form when warm, moist air rises, cools and condenses.  The thunderstorm develops in three stages:

  • The cumulus stage occurs as the warm moist air rises in a great vertical development. You will notice that the top of the cloud formation appears to “boil” as it rapidly rises.
  • The mature stage occurs when the cloud formation has reached its maximum height, sometimes 60,000 feet. At this point you will see the top in the shape of an anvil. This is being driven by winds aloft and the front of the anvil will point in the direction that the storm is moving. If you cannot see the anvil shape the storm is either coming toward you or going directly away.
  • The dissipation stage occurs as the cloud has released its precipitation and starts to go down. You will first observe a fuzzy, fibrous (called glaciated) top.  As the storm continues to dissipate you will see cirrus clouds streaking from the top.

One of the weather phenomena that you may find associated with a thunderstorm is wind sheer. Wind sheer is low mixed turbulence that occurs in front of a thunderstorm.

Thunderstorms contain thunder and lightning that can be used to determine the distance that the storm is from your current location and whether or not the storm is moving toward you or away from you. In order to make this estimate, count the seconds between the time you see the lightning and the time you hear the thunder. Divide this number by 6 and this will be the approximate distance in nautical miles that the storm is from your location. If the time between the flash of lighting and the clap of thunder were 12 seconds, the storm would be approximately 2 nautical miles away. This formula works because of the difference in the speed of light (when you see the lightning) and the speed of sound (when you hear the thunder). By using this calculation several times in a row you should be able to determine if the storm is coming toward you or going away. If it were coming toward you, obviously the seconds between the lightning and thunder would be decreasing. On the other hand, if the seconds between lightning and thunder were increasing, the storm would be moving away.

Thunder can only be heard for approximately 15 miles, so if you see lightning but hear no thunder the storm is more than 15 miles away.


  • First and foremost, make sure all aboard are wearing USCG approved PFDs.
  • Reduce speed and proceed with caution.
  • Close all hatches and ports.
  • Head for the nearest shore that is safe to approach and duck into the lee of land.
  • Put the bow into the wind and waves at about a 40 degree angle and watch for floating debris.
  • Pump out bilges and keep dry.
  • Change to a full fuel tank.
  • Secure loose items that could be tossed about.
  • Keep everyone low in the boat and near the centerline.
  • Minimize the danger of having your boat struck by lightning by seeking shelter in advance of a storm. If caught on open water during a thunderstorm, stay low in the middle of the boat.
  • If there is lightning, disconnect all electrical equipment. Stay as clear of metal objects as possible.

Be aware that thunderstorms can also include tornadoes and or waterspouts which are much more violent. A waterspout is a small, whirling storm over ocean or inland waters. Its chief characteristic is a funnel-shaped cloud. When fully developed, it extends from the surface of the water to the base of a cumulus cloud. The water in a waterspout is mostly confined to its lower portion.

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Coast Guard to Establish Safety Zones for 2011 New York Fleet Week

NEW YORK – The U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) of New York and New Jersey is establishing security zones and Naval Vessel Protection Zones on the Upper New York Bay and Hudson River during the 2011 New York City Fleet Week.

The U.S. Coast Guard has established a 500-yard safety and security zone surrounding all Fleet Week 2011 participatory vessels in navigable waters.  When within the 500-yard safety and security zone, all vessels shall operate at the minimum safe speed necessary to maintain course and shall proceed as directed by the Coast Guard or Navy. Other law enforcement agencies will assist in maintaining the zones.  No vessel or person is allowed within 100 yards of naval vessels without permission of the Coast Guard COTP.

The following are general restrictions for the Hudson River and Upper New York Bay during the May 25 parade of ships and throughout Fleet Week:

  • The Coast Guard will establish a moving safety zone around the parade of ships column including all waters 500-yards ahead and astern and 200-yards on either side of the designated vessels, during the parade of ships, beginning at approximately 7:30 a.m.
  • The Coast Guard patrol commander may authorize commercial passenger vessels on established ferry routes and other vessels to cross ahead or between naval vessels at a 350-yard distance. Vessels must operate at the minimum speed necessary to maintain safe course while crossing parade formation.  All vessel traffic in the Hudson River shall transit to the west of the parade column and shall operate at the minimum speed necessary to maintain safe course.  Following the passage of the last naval vessel in formation all transits shall be coordinated with Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) New York.
  • No vessels are authorized within the restricted area around the Stapleton homeport pier on Staten Island from 8 a.m., Tuesday, May 24, 2011 through 8 p.m., Wednesday, June 1, 2011.
  • No vessels are authorized within 250 yards of the Manhattan Cruise Terminal on the Hudson River between the southeast corner of Pier 86 and the northeast corner of Pier 92, from 4:00 a.m., Tuesday, May 24, 2011 through 8:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 1, 2011, with the exception of scheduled cruise ship arrivals and departures.
  • There is a scheduled 17-gun salute from the USS Iwo Jima near Fort Hamilton at 10:46 a.m. and a rendering of honors at the World Trade Center site at 11:22 a.m. Wednesday.
  • Beginning 4 a.m. Wednesday, May 25, 2011, Hudson River Anchorage 19 and Gravesend Anchorage are closed to commercial vessels until 11:30 a.m. Stapleton Anchorage 23 Bravo is closed to commercial vessels from 4 a.m. Wednesday, May 25, 2011 to Wednesday, June 1, 2011.
  • Ambrose Channel will be closed to outbound traffic from 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and closed to inbound traffic from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Wednesday May 25, 2011.
  • The Coast Guard patrol commander can be contacted via VHF-channel 22.

Entry into or movement within the restricted zones is prohibited unless authorized by the Coast Guard COTP or the designated on-scene representative. Any person violating this regulation is subject to a penalty of up to $50,000 and imprisonment for not more than 5 years.

The potential exists for unanticipated delays to ship movement and implementation of additional vessel controls with little or no warning within the port of New York and New Jersey from Wednesday, May 25, through Wednesday, June 1, 2011.  For the most up to date information on current restrictions please contact Coast Guard VTS New York at (718) 354-4088.

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Spring Boating Safety Tips That Work All Summer Long

National Safe Boating Week May 21-27

With spring’s arrival comes National Safe Boating Week May 21-27, which gives boaters, sailors and anglers time to reflect on and improve their own safety on the water. The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety has these five spring boat tips – but they can easily help you stay safe all summer long:

  1. You’re not in a bar: “Alcohol affects you more out on the water than in an air conditioned bar,” says Foundation President Chris Edmonston. What that means is that boaters experiencing the sun, wind and waves don’t handle alcohol the same way as they would ashore. US Coast Guard studies show that reaction times are slower. Fatigue occurs sooner. It’s best to leave the alcohol for when you are safely ashore.
  2. Your brother’s keeper: Don’t forget that a boat owner is also responsible for his or her guests. So while it may be common practice to allow them to drink, inebriated guests can really ruin a day when they become a safety risk or injure themselves.
  3. Night operation requires extra vigilance: Operating a boat at night, with fewer visual cues, confusing background lights ashore, and other vessels moving about can be challenging. But there’s one thing you can do which solves many of these problems: slow down. By slowing down the boat you give yourself the time and room to maneuver, make safe course changes and avoid hazards such as unlit navigation aids or shoals. Your second best nighttime “tool” at your disposal: adding an extra spotter.
  4. Brush up on your boating safety knowledge: Here’s a simple test: go out this weekend and identify every navigational aid you see and affirm its meaning – or better yet, identify all of them on a chart. If you can’t, it’s time to brush up on your rules of the road knowledge with a boating safety course. To take a boating safety course just click here.
  5. Give the boat a “checkup”: A free vessel safety check by US Coast Guard Auxiliary or US Power Squadrons is a good indicator of whether you and your boat are ready to handle a bad situation and have all of the right safety gear. However, the best part is that it is not punitive, and gives you the chance to correct deficiencies. To find out how you can get one near you, go to

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Not A Good Start to Safe Boating Week!

Last Saturday kicked off National Safe Boating Week which goes through next Labor Day Weekend. However, it was not what I would call a good start. It was unfortunate this past weekend but several boating accidents occurred across the country. Look at the facts involved in each accident and YOU decide who was prepared and who was just stupid.

On Sunday, the “Nordic Mistress”, which is being described as a 60-foot pleasure craft, reportedly began to sink about 85 miles north of Kodiak. From the above photo, it looks like it finished the job. Alaska’s KTVA reported that the five crewmembers all survived because they were able to:

  • Call for help on their VHF radio
  • Put on survival suits
  • Deploy and get into a life raft

In Tomales Bay on Sunday, reported that seven people were trying to fit in a 12-foot aluminum boat, causing it to capsize. Did we mention that there was a small craft advisory at the time (30 mph winds), and none of the people were wearing life jackets? All were rescued and returned to shore via the Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter.

On Saturday, a boating accident on Lake Victoria resulted in two fatalities and sent four people to the hospital. According to, investigators believe that the boat was traveling at a high rate of speed before it lost control and struck several docks and trees.

NBC Miami is reporting that three boaters left Boynton Beach, Florida, and were anchored near West End in the Bahamas when their 35-foot boat sank Sunday morning. Luckily they were able to activate their personal locator beacon and put on life vests. They were found clinging to a cooler by the Coast Guard and rescued. It sounds like the PLB played a huge role in this rescue – it’s hard to imagine that they would have been spotted so quickly without it, and there is no mention that they were able to get off a mayday signal.

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Introduction to Navigation Part 7 Estimating Time of Arrival

This will be the end of our  7 part series on “Introduction to Navigation.” We hope that we have given a brief overview of what you would be learning in the Nautical Know How Coastal Navigation Course. Trust me there is much, much more that we did not touch on.

Learning the “Art of Navigation” is not difficult but there are several steps that must be learned along the way. After learning about latitude and longitude, distance, direction and reading a nautical chart, you will start putting these processes together to solve real-time problems. On piece of practical information you might want to use is estimating time of arrival.

These basics are covered in the online Nautical Know How Basic Boating Safety Course at .

Assume that you will leave your marina or boat ramp on a trip to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

  • You have made reservations at the restaurant for 1200.
  • The restaurant is 29 nautical miles from your marina.
  • You plan on a leisurely cruise at a speed of 12 kts.

What time must you leave your marina to arrive at the restaurant at your reservation time?

This is a simple Distance, Time, Speed question. The formulas to use for the calculations are made simple if you remember, and actually write in a corner of your chart, the following diagram.

The “D” represents distance, “S” represents speed and “T” represents time. In order to solve a distance, speed, time problem you need two of the three values and then must solve for the third.

Using the diagram, cover the unknown value with your finger and what you have left is the formula to solve the problem.

In our problem we know the distance and the speed so we cover up the “T” and the resulting formula is “D” over “S” or “D” divided by “S”.

Using this formula, the first step is to calculate how long it will take you to get to the restaurant by cruising at 12 knots for 29 nautical miles.

29 / 12 = 2.42 hours

Note: This is not two hours and 42 minutes, it is 2 hours and 42 hundredths of an hour. We now have to convert this decimal to minutes by multiplying .42 X 60.

.42 X 60 = 25 minutes – So…our trip will take 2 hours and 25 minutes.

Now that we know how long the trip will take, we simply need to subtract that time from the time of our 1200 reservation.

1200 – 225 = 0935

1160 – 225 = 0935

Note: that in order to subtract we had to borrow an hour from the hours column. 1160 is the same as 1200. We must leave the marina or boat ramp at 0935 (9:35 am) in order to arrive at the restaurant by noon.

If you would like to learn more about Time, Distance, Speed calculations or other aspects of navigation, check out our Nautical Know How Coastal Navigation Course.

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Introduction to Navigation Part 6 Time Calculations

Navigation uses the 24-hour clock as its standard.  If you were fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on your political view) to have been in the military, you probably are familiar with the 24-hour clock or military time.  However, if it has been a while since you have done anything except look at the numbers on your digital wristwatch you may need to brush up.  All time used in navigation is expressed as four digits.  The first two digits are the hour number.  The second two numbers are the minutes. Starting with 0000 hours at midnight, the hours are counted as 0100, 0200, 0300, etc. through 1200 at noon.  After the noon hour the hourly intervals continue to count with 1300 (1:00 PM), 1400 (2:00 PM), etc. until you reach midnight (0000) again.

Minutes are indicated with a two-digit number after the hour interval.  For example, 8:30 AM is written as 0830, and 12 minutes past four o’clock in the afternoon would be written as 1612.  Using military time there is no need to use AM or PM.  A time of 0900 is nine hours after midnight (9:00 AM), and 9:00 PM would be written as 2100 (9 hours past 1200).

These basics are covered in the online Nautical Know How Basic Boating Safety Course at . It is highly recommended that, prior to beginning this advanced Coastal Navigation Course, each student successfully complete the Basic Boating Safety Course.

Calculating Time

The 24 hour clock makes it easy when you have to add or subtract time, one of the essential parts of doing distance, speed, time calculations.  Obviously, if you need to know how far you have gone at a certain speed you need to know how long (in time) you have been traveling.

As an example, if you wanted to find the time interval between a departure time of 0915 and an arrival time of 1325, you could set up a simple subtraction problem.    Hr
  4 Hr
10 Min 
Some problems can become a little more complex than the straight-forward subtraction problem above. What if you needed to find the time interval between your departure of 1345 and your arrival at 1515? When you set up the problem you get an unusual looking situation.    Hr
? Min
You should remember that the two sets of two digit numbers represent two different units, i.e. hours and minutes. Just like in regular math, you must subtract the units to the right before you can subtract the units to the left.  In this case you have to borrow an hour from the hours unit.  Converting the hour to minutes, you have borrowed 60 minutes. So, 1515 is rewritten as 1475.
   1 Hr
30 Min


Once you have properly set up the problem by borrowing an hour and converting to minutes, you simply perform a standard subtraction by taking 45 minutes from 75 minutes and 13 hours from 14 hours.  You time underway equals 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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