If you haven’t obtained a vessel safety check (VSC) it’s a good idea to schedule one. They’re free and offer you a quick, seasonal way of getting an objective view of your boats water worthiness, safety level and compliance with local regs. A good place to start in terms of finding a qualified individual that can visit your boat and perform a VSC is the Safety Seal site.
This past week my wife, daughter and friend of ours were in Lake Union heading toward the locks for a planned outing to Poulsbo. It was 9:30 in the morning and with Morrison’s Fuel Dock in site and almost no other marine traffic we spotted a brightly colored Coast Guard pontoon boat. We were traveling well within the 7 knot speed limit and had a low wake. But, something told me, since we were practically the only boat out there at the time, that we were in for a boarding. And, that’s exactly what was going to happen.
The Coast Guard boat turned on their flashing blue lights and approached our boat. When it got closer it used its speaker to request a boarding. Naturally, we brought the LAIKA to a stop and prepared to welcome our boarding party. With armed Coast Guardsmen on a boat with a menacing 50 caliber bow mounted gun what other action do you take?
Interestingly, we had just installed Skyhook for our boat, a Bayliner 340SB with Mercury’s Axius system. Axius delivers a computerized control-by-wire system that independently controls the two stern drives for amazing control (like parallel movements using a joystick). If you’ve ever played a video game you already know how to perform dock maneuvers with our boat – or any boat equipped with Axius or Zeus (the same system for pod engines). Skyhook delivers a virtual anchor for the boat. Using GPS it’s capable of literally keeping the boat in one place – regardless of currents and wind. If the boat moves the system senses where it should be and uses the engines to scoot back into position. It’s accurate to within a few meters, provided you have good GPS coverage.
So, the Coast Guard boat moved into position and two of the officers stepped onto our swim deck and into our cabin. They were extremely nice and requested to see our documentation (we’re CG documented), PFDs, extinguishers and other safety equipment (like flares, whistle, flags, etc.). They also examined our engine compartment and complimented us on its cleanliness.
The whole event took less than ten minutes. They were also gracious enough to pose for some pictures which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed.
We have friends that have been boating for decades that have never been boarded. Here we are, new boaters, out before the season officially begins and we received our first Coast Guard Boarding. It was a success because all our safety and mechanical gear was in great shape. It was also fun to test out the Skyhook feature, which worked perfectly. We intend to use it mostly when waiting for the locks to open.
So, while a VSC remains a great idea (and we have one planned), we already know we’ll pass – thanks to our Coast Guard boarding and inspection.
I know my boat is in compliance with safety equipment and I have all the vessel’s papers in easy reach. I’m an experienced boater with over 30 years of fun on the water. Why is it, then, I get a jolt of anxiety whenever whenever the blue lights come on?
Matthew – on the water it’s blue lights plus 50 caliber machine gun! 🙂
I suppose this is about the same phenomenon we all experience when we crest a hill and see a State Patrol cruiser in the distance – even if we’re doing the speed limit. Heart quickens. Palms sweat. For me it might be because most of the time I’m driving a tiny bit faster than the posted limits. On the water, too, I find I’m always trying to push the 7 knot speed limit when, in fact, I should be watching my wake instead.
I have to thank Bill Ray and his Seamanship course for the Seattle Sail & Powerboat Squadron for helping me appreciate the impact wakes have and my obligation as a thoughtful boater to be careful.
With the recommendation to improve our numbers placard, we passed an inspection last October. Unfortunately in that time of mild anxiety, I didn’t clear the cockpit and my autopilot remote wire got stomped by those big black boots. Skipper assumes all responsibility on board the boat, my bad.
Last fall we were pulling back into Elliott Bay Marina after a nice sail. Behind us I saw a CG boat but didn’t think much of it. Eventually I saw some light flashing but thought “he can’t be interested in me”. Finally it became clear… he wanted me to stop. I wasn’t crazy about it in the middle of the marina since without motion I was concerned about hitting docks or other boats. In any event, he pulled up along side me and said he had been glad to see my kids (and everyone) wearing PFDs and he just wanted to hand us some coupons for free ice creams and Dairy Queen! Fun!