No Brakes!!


All out!  All the time!  This is how a majority of recreational boaters seem to drive.  Be it in channels, in harbors, in anchorages, all out; all the time.


Candidates for the captain's license are often confused when we study Rule 6 of the Navigation Rules.  In Part B, Steering and Sailing Rules, Section 1 of the Coast Guard Navigation Rules, Rule 6 states that "Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and condition."


Without speed limit signs posted on the water boaters will interpret the speed limit to mean whatever speed they feel comfortable driving at.  Rule 6 continues on to identify specific conditions and situations that you must reduce your speed.  Even though there is no posted speed limit you MUST reduce your speed according to the rules.  Of course we all know that we should reduce speed in adverse weather and sea conditions.  Vision is impaired in restricted visibility and the ride is very uncomfortable, and unsafe if you are trying to hammer through rough seas.


One common event that fails to comply with this Rule is driving in congested areas.  I have seen channels leading to major ports on the Great Lakes heavily trafficked and most recreational boaters will travel at a higher rate of speed weaving in and out of the slower traffic in the channel.  Rule 6 is very specific about slowing down in high traffic density.  Remember – no brakes and you must keep your vessel under control at all times.


Traveling at night presents its own set of problems.  Back scatter from shore lights.  Depth perception reduced.  Unable to see floating hazards (logs, fish nets, etc.).  Too many lights turned on at or near the helm station.  Yet, there are those recreational boaters that insist on traveling as fast as they can on night trips.  Rule 6 identifies “State of Visibility” as another condition to reduce speed.


Knowing how your boat operates is important.  Watch a yacht delivery captain as he approaches a new area with a boat he/she is unfamiliar with.  The delivery captain will reduce to bare steerage to be able to control the vessel.  How long does it take your vessel to stop?  What distance does it take your vessel to stop from your normal cruising speed even with full reverse?  You will be surprised at the distance covered.  That is why the Coast Guard insists that “Manageability of the Vessel” be taken in account when determining safe speed.


Does this mean that Captain Joe is against driving with the wind in your face, your hair blowing back and heading for your favorite anchorage at a high speed so there is more time in the sun?  No, it means consider your speed when underway.  Slow down in traffic.  Slow down when traveling at night or in restricted visibility.  Slow down in channels, canals, fairways and dock approaches. Remember to slow down when necessary.  The whole idea of boating is to have fun safely.


The best way to learn how to operate your vessel safely is to take a boating class.  Check with your local USCG Auxiliary or the US Power Squadron.  Better yet is an on-the- water class from On Board Academy.    You've got the helm!