New Bern, NC – Boating season is still a few months away, but now is the time to start preparing. From annual inspections to engine maintenance, there is a list of items that must be done before you hit the water. Brushing up on your navigational skills and making sure your safety equipment is in working order should be at the top of your list. I traveled to the coast to talk get some tips on how to be safe out on the water.
"This is our commander Bruce Brill. Hey, how are you doing, Hey good. Nice to meet you ."
I arrived at the Peltier Creek Marina in Morehead City where I was welcomed by members of the Fort Macon Sail and Power Squadron.
"The weather front coming down from Canada hasn't arrived so we'll have a beautiful day today. The tide is falling right now so we'll be careful about shoals etc. But it's a beautiful day, the wind is light."
Our captain for the day and past commander of the Power Squadron Ken Link welcomed me aboard his vessel, a 27 foot Albermarle.
"This boat's name is Sea Clef. And that's because my wife and I are musical types and s-e-a for "C" and clef for the musical clef."
I passed my recording equipment to Capt. Link so I could step down into the boat. (AMBIENCE ) He handed it back, along with a life preserver.
"I'm very particular about people wearing lifejackets so that's the first thing that I'll ask you to do, is to put a lifejacket on "
There are many different styles of life jackets that are available. I was wearing a type 5 life jacket, which automatically inflates if I were to fall overboard. Some of these life jackets hold a whistle, reflective mirror, and a flash light which would be useful for signaling rescue personnel. Squadron Education Officer Richard LaPalme.
"Given the fact that falling overboard is an accident, it's unplanned. So a lifejacket is the number one preventer of accidents on the water."
In 2011, North Carolina ranked 9th in the nation for boating accidents, ninth in injuries and topping that seventh for boating fatalities. Last October, the coast guard had to rescue two children and three adults from a 20 foot boat that capsized off the coast of Bogue Inlet. Everyone was wearing lifejackets except for one man who found lying face down in the water. Life jackets are not required for adults, but they are mandatory for children 13 and under in North Carolina. As Capt. Link tightened my lifejacket straps, he pointed out some other required safety gear.
"Up front, just to the right of the bulkhead, beyond the companion way there is a first aid kit. That's also a requirement but it's there in case we need it. And to the left side, underneath the cushion are extra lifejackets, flairs, smoke grenades, and all of the safety equipment you will need."
Vessels are also required to have a fire extinguisher and a flotation device on board.
"Behind me, this is a throwable device. So if someone falls overboard, and we usually like a newbie to fall over first (laughter) So anyway, this is a throwable device. You throw it to the person in the water and try to throw it like you're throwing it over their head."
As an extra safety precaution, Squadron Education Officer Richard LaPalme suggest getting a free vessel Safety Check, which is an annual inspection of safety equipment and safety features specific to your boat.
"the squadron uses a checklist that's been prepared by the United States Coast Guard and that they distribute to the Coast Guard, the Auxiliary, and the U.S. Power Squadrons and we can perform a vessel safety check on the order of about 25 to 30 minutes. We can do it at any of the community member's homes, over at a boat slip, or any of the public boat ramps. All they have to do is just give us a call."
The Sea Clef received her vessel safety check the day before our trip and a decal was put on the windshield indicating that all required equipment is aboard and functioning properly. As we pulled away from the dock, LaPalme explained to me the different techniques boaters must use when departing a harbor or small waterway.
"Notice that Ken is a very low speed, no wake speed for our boat right now. He's staying basically to the starboard side of our exit channel here. He's basically looking forward to the narrow exit passage from the Pelliter Creek Harbor out into the intercoastal waterway."
The route to the intercoastal waterway was lined with several red and green signs. Just like we must rely on signs to tell us where to go on roadways, aids to navigation tell us where to go and warn us of dangerous areas when we're on the water.
"we're going to go ahead and make a turn to port and head on over to Morehead City now. Here's the twin engine gasoline powered Albermarle picking up speed. (engine increasing speed) We're passing green marker 17 on the ICW between Morehead City and Bogue Banks."
Our trip today would take us to the Morehead City Port. We would turn around and come back along the Morehead City waterfront. In all, about an 8 mile trip. Planning your route ahead of time is a good idea. LaPalme says it's important to know how tides and the shifting shoals will affect your route.
"Now you might look out here and say boy we've got about a half mile worth of water why don't we go anywhere we want to. Well, we looked at the charts before we left the dock and I can tell you from personal experience, that you don't want to get outside the channel here. Just one little example, if you go about 300 yards south of here, we were motoring in our little dingy about a 12-foot rubber boat and we came up on a shoal in about 12 inches of water."
The US Army Corp of Engineers office in Wilmington provides measurements and soundings of local waterways on their website.
"Boaters in the area know that the water is notoriously shallow we always talk about the skinny water down here. That's one of the benefits to our power boating courses is that we can provide an exchange of local knowledge from some of the seasoned seaman in this area to folks who are just getting into boating, or are just moving down to this area."
As we approached the Morehead City bridge, you could see a set of pilings letting boaters know where the channel is located. Besides protecting the structural integrity of the bridge, the pilings mark the safest route.
"On the top of the bridge at night, there will be a green light there which will indicate to boaters that are approaching it where the center of the "go-zone" is."
Off in the distance we could make out the tall cranes at the Morehead City port. But before we could get there, we slowed our engine as we approached a Coast Guard vessel.
"we're going to go talk to the Coast Guard . AHOY! GOOD AFTERNOON"
The Coast Guard Boat was looking to see if our Vessel Safety Check sticker was up to date. Since the boat was inspected the day before, the Coast Guard passed by without stopping us.
"As we approach the Morehead City port, you notice as we scan the horizon there's well over a half-dozen different navigational aids, different colors, different shapes, different locations. To the uninitiated, it can look very confusing and uncertain where the safe water is. That's one of the highlights of being able to read and understand the navigational charts."
After cruising past the Morehead City waterfront, we made our way back to Peliter Harbor. As we turned off the intercoastal waterway, Capt. Link blew the horn at an oncoming boat.
"We just signaled another boat Ken, what was that signal? So we just passed a boat on one whistle, which is a universal signal to inland boaters that we are going to pass the oncoming boat on the right side."
Capt. Link guided the boat through the channel. As we slowly passed by about a half dozen signs lining the channel, Captain Link had his eyes on another, less conventional navigational aid.
"there are two wren houses straight ahead. As long as you keep them lined up, we're in the middle of the channel going in. That's called a navigational range. There are a lot of official ones but this one is kind of unofficial. That's not on the chart I don't think."
As we pulled into the boat slip and the dock lines were secured, LaPalme told me about some of the safety classes offered by the Fort Macon sail and power squadron.
"right now the Fort Macon Power Squadron is providing its first winter of 2012 course, a weather course. So that course is a 10 week course running every Wednesday night right now. Shortly, we will be starting our seamanship course, which is an 8-week course that will run one night a week for two weeks each night."
The squadron will also hold classes on how to read navigational aids at night, navigational astronomy, how to read charts, and many others. For more information, go to the Fort Macon Sail and Power Squadron's website, www.fmsps.org, we've provided a link on our homepage, publicradioeast.org. I'm Jared Brumbaugh.
For more information on the Fort Macon Sail and Power Squadron, go to www.fmsps.org.