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Don't forget about these boating items, they're part of your vessel's safety plan!

(Part one of a two part series)

By Wayne Spivak, National Press Corps National Marketing & Public Affairs Department
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

KISS – not a smooch, but KISS.

For those who love acronyms, this one's a doozie!


For those who manage people or other assets, program computers, or even plan a dinner party, if you learn the acronym KISS and live by it, you'll find life is a lot easier.

But obtaining the nirvana of KISS is not easy, because it's so simple! And because it is just so plain simple, many of us overlook the obvious. So whether you're planning the merger of multiple government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security just did, or jotting down the driving instructions to your house, you always realize you missed something small and obvious.

Some items you should not overlook, when it comes to your boat, its crew and their safety are often missed, because they are just so plainly obvious...but are they?

The following areas are "stand alone items" you should think about, but most are inter-connected and sometimes inter-dependant on each other. Think of them as a house of cards. Remove one card, and your house stands. Remove the wrong card or cards and you run the risk of having your house collapse.

Owner/Skipper Responsibility

Owning a boat, in many respects is similar to owning a car. In previous articles, I have used this analogy for why there are navigation rules, why Personal Water Craft (PWC's) are indeed boats, and why we use sound signals, to name a few.

Just as owning a vehicle entails certain responsibilities, so does owning a boat.

As the Owner or Skipper (and I will use them interchangeably, but there are sometimes major differences, and you should speak with your legal advisor about them) of a not-for-hire vessel, you are responsible for the welfare of your crew and passengers.

Responsibilities range from meeting or exceeding both Federal and State/Local minimum equipment requirements, to knowing how to both navigate and handle your vessel properly. As the Skipper, you need to always have in the back of your mind the welfare of you and your crew- safety is paramount!

The navigation rules were created to avoid collisions as sea. But we all know accidents happen, whether they are boat to boat or boat to ground or boat to another object (dock, buoy, submerged logs, etc.).

Do you know what the requirements are for reporting an accident? What if someone was injured or missing overboard or even killed? Each State has different rules, and it is the responsibility of the Skipper to be aware of the laws in the State in which he/she is operating! And, don't forget your insurance company's rules (if you have liability insurance).

Offshore Operations

Many who boat in coastal areas enjoy taking trips offshore. But leaving the safety of the local bays, rivers, and harbors entails new responsibilities for the skipper and crew.

Typically there is some type of inlet that must be traversed.  There are different currents in the ocean, and where the ocean meets land, compared to those you find in the bays and harbors. Weather (wind) patterns may be different. The combination of these items might even make the head waters of the inlet treacherous!

Is your boat built for offshore sailing or is it more of a bay boat, where the waves never get extremely high? My boat is a bay boat. Three to five foot seas closely spaced (a short frequency) and the ride is uncomfortable, but safe. Higher seas and/or larger spacing and the ride becomes dangerous. How about your boat? Know and recognize your imitations!

Nautical Charts/Navigation Aids

Within the bays, harbors, and rivers of this country you'll find navigation aids. Depending on the area in which you boat, you will find different types of buoys, lights, ranges, and identifiable structures on land. All these items can be found on your navigational chart.

Obviously, you need to know how to read a nautical chart, and more importantly, how to plot your position on the nautical chart. The Coast Guard Auxiliary's Basic Coastal Navigation and Advanced Coastal Navigation courses can help you here!

However, with the exception of the entrance to major inlets and shipping channels, there are NO navigation aids offshore! And, should you venture out more than two and a half miles offshore, it's quite possible you won't even see the shore (depending on how many feet above the sea surface you can stand).

An example is that while you are sitting in you're boat; all of a sudden land disappears from view. From the surface of the water to your eye, is 4 feet. This means that you have just passed the 2.3 mile marker, away from shore. Should you stand up in the boat, and your height of eye increases from 4 feet to 6 feet, you'll be able to see land for another ? mile. This assumes that the weather is clear. Haze, fog, and other visibility decreasing weather will cut these distances dramatically.

Fuel Management

One of the nice things about driving in many parts of the US, is there is always a gas station around somewhere. In the more rural sections of our country, you might have to travel a bit, but you'll eventually find one. But on the water, you may not be so lucky!

On the bays, rivers, lakes and harbors of our nation, you'll find gas docks (where local authorities have deemed them to be environmentally safe). However, have you ever seen or heard of a floating marina offshore? I haven't, and that brings us to a major issue when traveling offshore – Fuel Management.

Do you know how many gallons your fuel tank holds? Is the fuel gauge accurate? How many gallons per hour (gph) does your engine burn? At what RPM is this rate calculated? What RPM were you traveling at? Did you calculate how many hours and/or miles you intend to travel? Did you then calculate your fuel requirements? Did you use the rule of thirds (one third of your fuel to get to your destination, one third to get you back home, and one third in reserve for emergencies)?

Unfortunately, running out of gas is one of the leading categories requiring a commercial towing service (and sometimes ultimately, Coast Guard or Coast Guard Auxiliary assets to be dispatched)

Now, many of you are thinking, what if I know there is a gas dock which would take ? my tank of gas to get to, why not just plan for this?

My answer is what if the gas dock is closed? Now you don't have enough gas to return to your originating point or possibly to the next gas dock, should you encounter any adverse condition outside your assumptions you made in your initial calculations.

Last and certainly not least: What about taking a boating safety course(s)? Have you educated yourself to prepare for the type of boating you will be doing?

In this article, I've asked numerous questions, each of which you need to answer before you leave your dock! I'll discuss the answer to the last question here (regarding boating safety courses). To learn more about the other questions and their answers, why not take the Coast Guard Auxiliary's Basic Coastal Navigation or Advanced Coastal Navigation courses.

In the next article, we'll touch on some additional topics every Skipper needs to think about, before venturing away from the dock.

For more information on boating safety, the courses mentioned, or the United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, look us up on the web at www.uscg.mil or www.cgaux.org.


Eye height

Distance off





















If you're height of eye is 4', and you just lost sight of land, you can assume you're slightly more than 2.3 miles away from land.

If you sit lower, then the distance is less.

If you sit higher, then you'll be able to see land farther out to sea.

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