Thursday, August 13, 2009

The (Un)Safety Rant

Some grousing about idiotic boat operators made me respond with a blog comment that I’ve now expanded a bit. In the original comment, I was responding to a professional ship skipper who noted some stupid things that small craft operators do that might risk shortening their life span. Of course, stupidity on the water occurs in many places and no one type of watercraft operator has quite managed to corner the market on stupidity, though some succeed more often than others. There are all sorts of idiocy and idiots on the water.

Although it’s better to learn from the mistakes of others than to be the example (we hope) others learn from, it would be better still to prevent some of the idiocy on the water. Note also that it's impossible to make watercraft and water safety foolproof -- fools are too ingenious for that!

We see so-called skippers who have no clue that right of way rules (Colregs) exist, and others who misinterpret them wildly.

As an example, there's the guy who hears about the rights of certain fishing vessels and thinks, mistakenly, that trolling a line from his fishing pole gives him the same rights as a purse seiner or shrimp trawler.

And, limited ability to maneuver is a relative term, with judgment called for but sometimes sadly lacking. In a tight harbor or narrow channel an oil services workboat could have limited maneuverability, but it doesn't really have special rights on the open sea, whereas a supertanker's area of limited maneuverability covers some 70% of planet Earth (hint: the wet part).

Small craft skippers don't help by:
• failing to keep lookout,
• boating under various influences,
• changing course whimsically and unpredicatably (without looking or planning ahead),
• underestimating closing speeds and mis-judging approach angles,
• not realizing how invisible their craft are (visually and on radar),
• not thinking to hail on VHF,
• not maintaining or properly operating nav lights,
• not knowing how to interpret nav lights,
• ignoring channel and fairway etiquette,
• loitering in traffic separation lanes,
• not maintaining mooring and ground tackle (get my Drift?),
• not equipping their boats with radar reflectors (for near coastal) or electronic identification,
• relying blindly on GPS (even setting a course across shoals or dry land in a decidedly non-amphibious vessel),
• diverting rescue services and commercial operators by venturing into conditions for which they were grossly unprepared,
• not wearing life vests or using harnesses or jacklines in rough or limited visibility conditions, or by
• just plain old not taking early and substantial action to avoid a collision.

Does that cover the list or did I miss a few, such as the extreme idiocy of playing chicken or trying to see how close one can get to big ship, or someone deciding a big ship's wake or bow wave would be fun to play in? Darwin Award, here we come....

But wait! Here’s another groovy, trippin’ notion: try to navigate a small boat between a towboat and the barges it’s towing.

Or how about
• the drunken jet skier who slammed into a historic wooden ship?
• the sweet young thing wearing her high heels on a slippery foredeck?
• or the legions of jet skiers who think they can steer without thrust (off throttle)?
• or the ones who cut behind vessels… right into the path of other traffic?
• or the windsurfers who make absolutely no provision for cold water and go hypothermic without any help nearby?
• the guy who set up his bilge pump to work backwards?
• or the fishermen who anchor their small boat in a busy harbor or tie up to nav buoys?
• or the guys who anchor off the transom?
• the skipper and crew who don’t even realize they’ve lost their water skier until a mile later?
• or the skipper who uses a thirty-foot anchor rode to anchor in twenty feet of water?
(Hint: “Man, this is a drag.”)
• the guy charging into the slip at 10 knots… who realizes his fenders and dock lines are stowed below… and where are the brakes on this stupid thing?
• or the nocturnal hot rodder going 40 knots near obstructions on a moonless night?
• the idiots who drag a huge wake through marinas or mooring fields?
• the “teak surfers” getting their fill of carbon monoxide?
• the folks perched on the bow of a runabout bouncing in chop?
(Class, can you say “propeller strike bait”?)

Another gem: “Meestair, we don’t need no steenkeen fuel reserve!”

Or, Depth sounder? Sure we got one … it’s called the propeller and lower unit! Yep, we’ve got a very expensive depth sounder, all right. Sure is a pain to have to get a tow to the harbor and drive to the store to buy a new prop ‘cause we sure wouldn’t want the boat lockers clogged up with a spare prop, pin, and tools when we could stuff another case of beer in there.

Chart? Why bother? I know every sandbar, rock, and ledge in this bay! See! Here’s another one!

I’m not even going to try to think of all the amazing antics that happen at boat ramps. Drain plug? Straps? Parking brake or chocks? Safety chains? Who needs ‘em?!? Mast clearance under power lines? Why bother? Wait until we’re on the boat ramp to start setting up our boat for the weekend? Why not?

Many small craft operators in open water don't realize that, the earth's curvature and their proximity to the surface so limit their horizon that a fast-moving ship can "pop up" and be on top of them in a short time if the skipper is distracted or not maintaining a frequent 360 degree watch.

Some commercial operators don't help with sloppy watch standing. Fatigue and training can be a big issue on smaller commercial craft. Some operators of smaller commercial vessels seem to think that they have unlimited rights just because they're commercial. Some owners aren't too worried about how well rested or trained their crews are. And don’t get me started on the admirable standards maintained on some “flag of convenience” ships.

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At 8:49 PM, August 13, 2009, Blogger Carol Anne said...

Two other "boat ramp follies" that I've observed ... waiting until the boat is floating in the water off the trailer and then finding out that the motor won't start, and discovering after launching the boat that the keys to the truck are in the pocket of the guy on the boat.


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