Monthly Archives: February 2013

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Lake Boating, Navigation, Rules of the Road, Sailing News

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Lake Boating, Navigation, Rules of the Road, Sailing News

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Lake Boating, Navigation, Rules of the Road, Sailing News

Navigation Rules Series Part I

Why not use the remainder of the winter preparing for the 2013 boating season by refreshing your understanding of the USCG Navigation Rules? During the next few weeks we will be posting articles  to help jog your memory about what the rules are, to whom they apply  and we will attempt to explain, in non-legalize, what they mean. This first in the USCG Navigation Rules Series will focus on definitions.

The “Navigation Rules” or Collision Avoidance Regulations (COLREGS) were designed to give direction to vessels in order to set a standard that everyone could follow in order to prevent collisions of two or more vessels. They are many in number and cover almost every imaginable sequence of events that may lead to collision.

The rules are laid out to describe International Rules and Inland Rules. Although many are the same for both International and Inland, there are some differences that should be noted. You do not have to memorize them all, but be aware of the basic rules that apply in order to operate safely on the water.

You will be using terms when dealing with the rules of the road that may be unfamiliar to you. Because the rules are federal laws, the definitions of these terms are important. The following terms are found throughout the rules of the road. You should have a thorough understanding of their meaning.

Except where noted, the following definitions apply to both International and Inland Rules:

  • Vessel – Every craft of any description used or capable of being used on the water.
  • Power Driven Vessel (Motorboat) – Any vessel propelled by machinery.
  • Sailing Vessel – Any vessel under sail alone with no mechanical means of propulsion. (A sailboat propelled by machinery is a Motorboat.)
  • Vessel engaged in fishing means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls or other fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus that do not restrict maneuverability.
  • Seaplane includes any aircraft designed to maneuver on the water .
  • Underway– Not at anchor, aground or attached to a dock or the shore.
  • Vessels are in sight of one another only when one can be observed visually from the other.
  • Restricted visibility means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sand storms or any other similar causes.

The following two definitions apply to Inland Rules Only:

  • Western Rivers means the Mississippi River, its tributaries, South Pass, and Southwest Pass, to the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States, and the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route, and that part of the Atchafalaya River above its junction with the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route including the Old River and the Red River.
  • Great Lakes means the Great Lakes and their connecting and tributary waters, including the Calumet River as far as the Thomas J. O’Brien Lock and Controlling Works (between mile 326 and 327), the Chicago River as far as the east side of the Ashland Avenue Bridge (between mile 321 and 322), and the Saint Lawrence River as far east as the lower exit of Saint Lambert Lock

Additional definitions included in the Rules of the Road:

  • Danger Zone – An arc of 112.5 degrees measured from dead ahead to just aft of the starboard beam.
  • Stand-On Vessel – The vessel that should maintain course and speed.
  • Give-Way Vessel – The vessel that must take early and substantial action to keep clear of the stand-on vessel.
  • Visible (when applied to lights) – Visible on a dark, clear night.
  • Vessel not under command means a vessel that through some exceptional circumstance is unable to maneuver as required by the Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.
  • Vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver means a vessel that, from the nature of her work, is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by the Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel .
  • Vessel constrained by draft means a power-driven vessel that, because of her draft in relation to the available depth and width of navigable water, is severely restricted in her ability to deviate from the course she is following.
  • Length and Breadth of a vessel means her length overall and greatest breadth.
  • Secretary means the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating.
  • Inland Waters means the navigable waters of the United States shoreward of the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States and the waters of the Great Lakes on the United States side of the International Boundary. Inland Rules or Rules mean the Inland Navigational Rules and the annexes thereto, which govern the conduct of vessels and specify the lights, shapes, and sound signals that apply on inland waters.
  • International Regulations means the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972, including annexes currently in force for the United States.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Fishing News, Lake Boating, Navigation, Rules of the Road, Sailing News

General Ice Thickness Guidelines

Many outdoor sportsmen and women enjoy the winter months but there are certain things that you should be concerned about when recreating on ice. The following information is courtesy of the Minnesota DNR.

For New, Clear Ice Only

  • 2″ or less – STAY OFF
  • 4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
  • 5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
  • 8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
  • 12″ – 15″ – Medium truck

Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.

Checking ice thickness

No matter what you are going to do once you get on the ice – like fishing, snowmobiling, skating or even ice boating, it’s a good idea to contact a local bait shop or resort on the lake about ice conditions. It’s also important to do some checking yourself once you get there. Several factors affect the relative safety of ice, such as temperature, snow cover and currents. But a very important factor is the actual ice thickness.

ice chisel

Ice Chisel

The ice chisel or “spud bar” is one of the oldest methods of making a hole in the ice. In its simplest form, it consists of a metal rod with a sharp, flat blade welded onto one end that is driven into the ice in a stabbing motion. Depending on the sharpness of the blade, the thickness of the ice and the strength of the user, it can make a hole in the ice fairly quickly, especially when the ice is less than a foot thick.

Ice Auger

There are several varieties of ice auger. Some people like the hand auger for its low cost, light weight and low noise factor. The disadvantage of a hand-powered auger is that after a few holes, operator exhaustion becomes an issue. Some folks like an electric auger, with its low noise level rivaling a hand auger, with the advantage of a lot less work for the user. An electric auger does, however, need an external 12-volt battery, which can be something of a nuisance to lug around. Gas augers boast the fastest speed in drilling through the ice, but are heavier, noisier and generally more costly than hand or electric models.


Cordless Drill

There is one tool, that many households have hanging on the pegboard in the basement or on a shelf in the garage that can make checking ice thickness a quick and easy task – a cordless rechargeable electric drill.

With a cordless drill and a long, five-eighths inch wood auger bit, you can drill through eight inches of ice in less than 30 seconds. Most cordless drills that are at least 7.2 volts will work, but the type of bit is critical. You need a wood auger bit since they have a spiral called a “flute” around the shaft that metal drilling bits don’t. The flutes pull the ice chips out of the hole and help keep it from getting stuck, much in the way a full-sized ice auger works. It is important to dry the bit and give it a quick spray of silicone lubricant after each use. Otherwise, the next time you open your toolkit, you’ll find your once shiny drill bit looking like a rusty nail!

Tape Measure

Some people claim they can judge thickness by where the chisel or drill suddenly breaks through, but that happens so quickly, it’s easy to overestimate the thickness. It’s smarter to use a tape measure or something like an ice fisherman’s ice skimmer handle with inch markings to put down the hole and hook the bottom edge of the hole to determine the ice’s true thickness.

Other things to keep in mind when checking ice.
Ice is seldom the same thickness over a single body of water. It can be two feet thick in one place and one inch thick a few yards away due to currents, springs, rotting vegetation or school of rough fish. You need to check the ice at least every 150 feet, especially early in the season or any situation where the thickness varies widely.

Recommended minimum thicknesses for new clear ice.

4″ Ice fishing and small group activities
5″ Snowmobiles and ATVs
8″ – 10″ Small to medium cars, and pickups.

White ice, sometimes called “snow ice,” is only about one-half as strong as new clear ice so the above thicknesses should be doubled.

Vehicles weighing about one ton such as cars, pickups or SUVs should be parked at least 50 feet apart and moved every two hours to prevent sinking. It’s not a bad idea to make a hole next to the car. If water starts to overflow the top of the hole, the ice is sinking and it’s time to move the vehicle!

Leave a comment

Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Fishing News, Lake Boating, The Boating Environment, Uncategorized

Coast Guard Urges Mariners to Exercise Caution When Recreating on Frozen Lakes, Ponds and Rivers

USCG File Photo

The Ninth Coast Guard District reminds the Great Lakes public to use extra precautions when planning recreational activities on frozen ponds, streams, rivers and lakes – ice can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Ice is an ever-changing surface and the fluctuating weather conditions greatly affect the ice’s stability.

In an effort to prevent, prepare and educate those who recreate on the ice, the Coast Guard would like to encourage people to remember the following tips.

I – Intelligence: check the weather and ice conditions, know where you are going, and know how to call for help/assistance.
C – Clothing: wear the proper anti-exposure clothes with multiple layers. If possible, wear a dry suit to prevent hypothermia, which can occur within minutes after falling through the ice.
E – Equipment: have the proper equipment such as a marine band radio, life jackets and screw drivers.

While the Coast Guard understands winter recreation on the ice around the Great Lakes is a tradition, it is important to take safety measures such as:

  • Use the buddy system: NEVER go out on the ice alone.
  • Dress in bright colors; and wear an anti-exposure suit that is waterproof, including a personal flotation device. A PFD allows a person to float with a minimum amount of energy expended and allows the person to assume the heat escape lessening position (H.E.L.P.) – bringing the knees close to the chest and holding them in place by wrapping the arms around the shin portions of the legs.
  • Carry two ice picks or screwdrivers for self-rescue. They are much more effective than using your hands.
  • Carry a whistle or noise-making device to alert people that you are in distress.
  • Don’t rely on cellular phones to communicate distress; VHF-FM radios are much more reliable.
  • Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges and slushy areas, which signify thinner ice.

Because Great Lakes ice is dangerous and unpredictable, the threat of hypothermia is always present with a potential fall through the ice. Hypothermia begins to set in quickly as the human body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 C).

To treat hypothermia, handle the victim gently, get them indoors and remove clothing, then dry the victim promptly and wrap in blankets. Lastly, transfer the victim to rescue and/or medical authorities immediately.

However, AVOID the following actions with hypothermia:

  • NEVER rub or massage the extremities.
  • NEVER give alcohol or caffeinated products
  • NEVER apply ice
  • NEVER apply external heat sources directly to the skin
  • NEVER allow the person to smoke
  • NEVER allow the person to walk upon rescue until cleared to do so by a medical professional

The Coast Guard would like everyone to take an active part to enhance their chances for rescue and survival with a commitment to safety this year and beyond.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Fishing News, Lake Boating, Sailing News, The Boating Environment

Common Questions About Ice Boating

Now that we are in the throes of winter, many hard-core boaters are looking to get back,  literally, “on” the water . Perhaps our vocabulary should change to getting “in” the water in the warmer months and “on” the water during winter months.

Below are some FAQ’s for a small but growing sport.

How Fast Do These Things Really Go? 

Ice boats, depending on design and class, will reach speeds up to five times the speed of the wind. How?  Well, it has something to do with the low friction between the runners and the ice, and the sail shape. The sail acts more like a vertical wing rather than a sail. Volumes could be written as to exactly what makes an ice boat speed along at five times the speed of the wind. As to how fast they can go, in the right conditions, the smaller DN class achieves speeds of 50 to 60 mph. The ultra-modern class A Skeeters (the “Formula One” class of ice boating) reach speeds well over 100 mph.

Is Ice Boating Safe?

Any vehicle that can achieve such high speeds certainly has the potential to be dangerous. However, learning to properly sail an ice boat, sailing by the established right-of-way rules, always using common sense, properly maintaining the equipment, and staying off the lake during unsafe conditions go a long way towards making ice boating a safe sport. For more on ice boating safety, read the Ice Boat Safety Page.

Ice Boats Don’t Have Brakes-How Do They Stop? 

Ice boats while under sail do not have brakes. In order to stop an ice boat, a skipper steers it directly in to the wind. While sailing, it is often possible to slow a boat down by easing the sheet rope (the rope that controls the sail shape). Ice boats do have a parking brake attached to the front-runner and it is employed after the boat is completely stopped. The parking brake allows the skipper to walk away from his boat when not sailing.

How Much Does An Ice Boat Cost?

Ice boats can range in cost from a few hundred dollars for an old un-classified ice contraption or perhaps an old uncompetitive DN class boat, to $60,000 for a modern, championship winning class A Skeeter. Between the $200 beater and the $60,000 championship contender are many fast competitive boats in various classes that can be had from around $2500 to $7500.

Even though it is rumored that ice boating is mainly 75% building them, 10% talking about them, 10% waiting around on the ice for the right conditions, and 5% actual sailing time, do you get to sail enough to make the sport worthwhile?

Many ice boaters feel the thrill of ice boating makes even one single ride per year well worth the effort. On Madison, WI lakes, a person can sail probably four to six weekends per year. More in a “good” year, and of course, less in a “bad” year. When conditions are good, taking a day or two off from work during the week can increase your amount of fun sailing time. A willingness to travel a bit to find good ice will increase your sailing times to perhaps as many as ten to twelve weekends per season.

How Can I Get Started In Ice Boating? 

The Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club holds meetings every other Wednesday night from November through late March and everyone is welcome to attend. If you show up on the ice perhaps you may be able to arrange a ride in one of the two-seater classes, such as the Nite class. However, I must warn you that finagling a solo ride in someone’s ice boat is a tough sell. Generally after a ride or two, you will be directed towards a used boat for sale. If you interest is still high, that’s the time to start looking for your own boat. You will be glad that you did.

Check out the video below to get a sense of the speed and thrill that can be achieved in an ice boat.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Lake Boating, Sailing News