Sunday, April 7, 2013

An Open Letter

Dear Recreational Boater/Weekend Angler:

Please, for the love of God and the children who you need to get off your bow and into life jackets, help me help you be safe.

I know you’ve been messing around on boats since the Yankees recaptured Fort Livingston, but consider taking a boater education course anyhow.  It takes just a few hours, costs less than $20, and you can probably even do it online.

A boater ed course will introduce you to the Navigation Rules, from which you are not exempt simply because you trailer your boat to the water.

These rules include such concepts as privileged (stand-on) and burdened (give-way) vessels. You probably think of this in terms of “right-of-way,” which is not a phrase found in the nautical lexicon.

Among the most common situations you’ll learn about are overtaking, crossing and meeting.  Here are the basics: if we are meeting head-on, alter course to starboard as your default action. If we are crossing, and I’m on your right, you’ll see my red sidelight. Red means stop, or at least slow down or alter your course astern of me.

If we are crossing and I’m on your left, just keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll take the necessary actions to avoid a collision.

If I’m in front of you, I am the privileged vessel and you must ask permission to come around me. The primary means to do this is by use of a sound signaling device, but that’s cumbersome and most commercial vessels simply make arrangements via radio.

Radios are extremely useful, and I can promise you that commercial vessels will be both surprised and extremely pleased if you come up on the appropriate channel and let them know your intentions. Failing that, you can at least listen-in and hear what people are saying about you.

Inside the sea buoy, most everyone will be on VHF Channel 13. In the Gulf of Mexico, most folks will be monitoring VHF 16 in addition to working channels. It’s entirely appropriate to hail a vessel on the appropriate channel.

I know there’s a really deep hole in Barataria Pass where it meets Bayou Rigaud, but it’s doubtful that’s where most of the fish are. Regardless, it is illegal for you to anchor in the navigational channel. Please don’t.

A close reading of the rules also will indicate that vessels crossing the channel are the least privileged vessels on the water. Wait for everyone to get past before you jet over to the other side.

You should know that some large boats, including mine, are probably a lot faster than you think they are. Because larger objects appear to be moving more slowly than they are, among other reasons, you should think twice about cutting across (or under) a large boat’s bow.

You may be comforted by the observation that I have two radar transmitters spinning on top of my wheelhouse. What you may not know is that those radars are not all that good at detecting small fiberglass boats. They’re even worse at picking up plastic kayaks.

So, to recap: take a boater’s ed course, use the radio and don’t anchor in or cross in front of me in the channel.

I am all for you getting out and enjoying the fine weather. I fish, I paddle and I love small boats. I’m glad you’re out here. But you’re giving me a headache this weekend.

If we collide, chances are I won’t be injured at all, and you may even survive unhurt. My company’s insurance will probably buy you a new boat. But I’ll lose my job and very possibly my career. I may even go to jail.

So, please, help me help you be safe.


A Crewboat Captain

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