CMDR. BRADY: Make safety priority when boating busy channel

I remember all the steps I took to get a driver’s license — studying, learner's permit, road tests, restricted licenses and, ultimately, my ticket to freedom. I also remember the steps I took to become a boater. I was out fishing with my dad one day when he said, “Here — keep us pointed east.”
Aug 30, 2013


My point is that, even though there is no requirement to pass a state or even a federally mandated test, boating regulations still exist and you are required to know them. Plus, it makes for a more enjoyable day on the water for you and especially those around you when we can all share the waterway in a safe and organized manner.

As we enter the last hurrah of the summer, I’d like to point out some of the more commonly overlooked boating protocols I’ve seen over the summer. Typically, you’ll hear the Coast Guard talk endlessly about safety equipment. While I can never stress safety enough, I’d like to focus on some boating etiquette.

If you take a boating safety course (available at 616-405-7008), this and more will be explained. But, for now, please make every effort to follow the waterways regulations, and be courteous on the water every day.

(1) Prep your boat before pulling up to the ramp. Give some consideration toward others launching their boat. You are not being strategic by pulling up to a ramp to reserve your spot from both incoming and outgoing boats, and then unloading your truck and un-strapping your boat. Get your boat ready to launch and then pull up to the ramp. You’ll also be less likely to forget the bilge plug.

(2) Overloading. Just because there’s a seat doesn’t mean you can sit there. Check the boat’s capacity plate; it will have a passenger count and a weight limit. Regulated under the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 33 for boats under 20 feet, the NMMA and manufacturers have adopted this as common practice for most larger boats as well. All boats are not equal in seaworthiness either. Just because you may be under maximum capacity of your old deck boat, doesn’t mean you’re ready to tackle the 4-foot confused sea at the mouth of the river. Be aware of both overloading, and your boat's limitations.

(3) State lifejacket regulations trump federal in many cases. In Michigan, children under age 6 need to be wearing a USCG-approved Type II life jacket whenever a boat is in motion; not just a vest, and not a puddle-jumper. These are typically either the “horse collars” or vests with the “pillow” attached behind the head. These life jackets have a much greater probability of keeping your child’s head above water, especially in turbulent or rough water. It’s not just the floatation; it’s the way the device is designed.

(4) Enter and leave the traffic lanes/channels at right angles. Although this is not a VTS area, it is good marine practice to cut into the Grand River Parade of Sail (transiting the channel on a Saturday afternoon) as if it were a road intersection. Cut straight across and join everyone in the traffic pattern instead of splitting opposing traffic on the wrong side of the river.

(5) Slow traffic should keep right. Inferred from “ColRegs,” the International Rules for Collision Avoidance at Sea, this practice mimics highway travel. In the Inland Rules, the preferred avoidance for a meeting situation is for both vessels to turn to starboard. However, in a passing situation, the stand-on vessel is the one in front. So, if you are in the middle of the channel and being overtaken, it will be very difficult for you to avoid oncoming traffic; hence the practice of staying to the right and minimizing the likelihood of a meeting situation while “getting passed.” The Grand River is grand, but narrower than needed to conveniently accommodate all the boaters headed downriver at one time, and traveling anywhere from 3-8 mph.

(6) Know the designated traffic patterns, and keep restricted navigation lanes open, such as the bridge spans into and out of the bayous. Make sure you’re not restricting waterway access to other boaters.

(7) Fishing is trawling, not trolling. It also includes long lining, seining and some other stuff. But in the “Rules of the Road,” even fishing vessels cannot impede the safe navigation of vessels within a channel. The channel is maintained for safe navigation; so, while fishing in the channel from boat or shore, trolling or drifting, the normal hierarchy rules still apply.

(8) Keep your “head on a swivel.” Operator inattention is a leading cause of accidents. “I didn’t see him” by either party is no excuse. Whether making 5 knots down the river or 90 knots on the big lake, don’t get tunnel vision and only focus on what’s in front of you. Obviously, you should also avoid distractions inside the boat like texting.

(9) Make your intentions known. Playing chicken at 5 mph can be frustrating. When in a crossing situation, make sure others around you know where you’re going. If you’re the “give-way” vessel, point your bow of the “stand-on” vessel’s stern. Nobody likes to stare at both sidelights for five minutes and wonder how close a boat's going to come.

Whether a fisherman, a pleasure boater or a looper, you are all part of a club. You should feel a connection to those who share your passion, not frustration with the person who throws big wakes every Saturday when they pass your slip.

And, because I can’t resist: Wear your PFD, get a safety inspection, plan your trip, stay alert and don’t boat under the influence.

— By Cmdr. Sean Brady, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Field Office Grand Haven.


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