Locking Through Alone

Transiting The Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks can be a challenging exercise for recreational boaters. It requires patience, good boating skills, a sense of community and willingness to help others (especially in the busy summer months), and a constant awareness of safety.

With the winter months being less busy than during the Spring and Summer, they’re an excellent opportunity to practice your locking skills by moving between the Ship Canal and Puget Sound.

Recently my wife and I planned to spend a few days in Port Townsend and La Conner. Due to some scheduling challenges I would have to take our boat through the locks myself, and meet her at Shilshole.

While my wife and I have probably gone through the locks several dozen times, I’ve only had to go through alone a few times before. The first time was two summers ago and I was apprehensive. I was worried about handling the lines. Could I do it alone? What if I were in the large lock and had to maintain control of two 50′ lines?

Prior to going it solo the first time I visited the locks, on foot, to speak to some of the people working there. The advice and guidance I received was simple. They convinced me that I could it do and that their job was to make sure I did it well, and safely. They even suggested I call ahead to the lock master and ask any specific questions I might have and, if I felt it necessary, call the day I was planning to go through.

Recreational boaters should be aware, though, that communicating with the locks via VHF radio is not permitted. Only commercial vessels can do that. In fact, signs suggest that recreational boaters should turn off their radios. However, that doesn’t prevent you from stopping by in person and chatting, or calling on the phone.

With regard to radios, I tend to leave two of my radios on. One is set to channel 16 and, when preparing to head through the locks, I like to have a portable set to channel 13. I turn them completely off or silence them when I begin going through, but while waiting it’s useful to hear which commercial vessels are planning an approach.

My most recent solo locking experience happened February 12, 2016 (see video above) and I was treated to a spectacularly beautiful day.  It was so gorgeous that I decided to mount a GoPRO and capture the experience.

I was pleased with the results, though the video did reveal some poor line handling toward the end when I was trying to release the bow line. In retrospect I should have had a utility pole up on the bow with me. Still, the locking was a success. I managed to get through safely – without damaging the boat (or anyone else’s).

Key steps I think any recreational boater can benefit from knowing when going through the locks, whether alone or with a crew, include:

  • Prepare by having all your fenders and lines ready.
  • Don’t assume a port or starboard tie – be prepared for both!
  • Remember slow is smooth and smooth is fast! Don’t rush.
  • Wear your PFD! The water is cold and people slip and fall often.
  • Don’t assume the small or large locks – be prepared for both (and have the proper lines ready).
  • Be willing to help other boaters making their way in with you, but don’t interfere with the lock personnel. They’re very skilled at helping boaters get through the locks. Listen to their instructions and follow them precisely.
  • Beside turning off your radio(s), be sure to turn off your radar! The lock personnel don’t enjoy the extra radiation.
  • Don’t get hyper excited by position. Most boaters know and respect the order they arrive in and also know that for the large locks it’s expected that larger vessels enter first, even if they have just arrived. So, while it may look like some boats are cutting in front of everyone, bigger boats are expected into the large locks first and will likely assume positions along the wall.

Another tip we can share after having done it for about five years – bring Girl Scout cookies. It’s a nice gesture and the crews working during the busy summer months will be grateful – and cut you a little extra slack as you’re working to refine your locking skills!

A Rode Well Traveled: Marking Your Ground Tackle

Anchoring is almost always fun and often challenging (we recently had an anchoring adventure in Desolation Sound). Beside learning key techniques related to placement and holding capabilities, it’s critically important for boaters to understand the ratios (scope) of anchor rode (chain or line) to water depth.

There are lots of online resources and videos to guide boaters and teach them some of the best techniques for the various types of anchoring that can be performed. Anchor manufacturers also provide useful resources. A small list of some of these guides will appear at the end of this post.

Instead of discussing holding capabilities and scope, this post, instead, will share our experience painting our anchor line. While there are electromechanical chain counting systems, a simpler visual system sometimes works just as well and is certainly more affordable.

Bring Out Your Chain

The first step was to pull out all the chain from the chain locker. I used two tarps to protect the bow deck and the side of the boat. The weight of the chain would serve to keep both of them in place. I recommend using work glove while handling your chain. As a practice, I wear them whenever dealing with ground tackle and, especially, the windlass.

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While I was pulling out chain I had someone on the dock, next to the boat, start collecting the chain.

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A dock line was used to secure the anchor end of the chain, which would remain on the bow. I used a tape measure to determine the first 30 feet of the chain, starting with the anchor swivel connected to the anchor.

Measuring and Marking

One we had some chain on the dock some painter’s tape was used to mark the first 30 foot position. You can decide to mark your chain in whatever lengths you feel are appropriate. A vast majority of our anchoring is in Cozy Cove near Carillon Point or in Andrews Bay next to Seward Park. For whatever reason, we’re always calculating our scope and chain length in 30 foot sections – so that’s how we measured things out.

IMG_4178Our dock has ten foot sections which makes measuring our 30 foot sections super easy. After three dock sections we’d turn our chain, wrap it around and pull back to our starting point.

Once our chain was laid out it became a relatively simple matter of protecting the dock and boat and then, simply, applying some marine paint. We selected red because we thought it would be the easiest to see.

IMG_4181Almost any paint brand will work. We selected a can of red Moeller spray paint that we purchased at Fisheries Supply. It was designed for marine applications. It’s likely that you’ll have to refresh your markings every few years depending upon how often your chain is exposed to the windlass and water.

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The whole marking job took about 90 minutes, which included time for the paint to dry. We definitely measured multiple times before applying paint. Our marks ended up being at the 30′, 60′ 90′, 120′, 150′ and 180′ positions. For all chain rode in the Pacific NW the scope is typically 3:1 allowing us to, conceivably, anchor in depths up to 60 feet.

While some people use different patterns to designate the different length segments, all our markings were the same – big red areas about a foot or so in length designed to be easily seen as anchor chain is let out. We were confident that we could keep track of our six marks instead of trying to decipher some dash-dot or varying color pattern.

Anchoring Resources

Technology and Tools for Anchoring

 

 

Seaplane capsizes in Lake Union

An otherwise uneventful landing of a small seaplane ended poorly after the craft started listing dramatically to one side shortly after landing this past Saturday in Lake Union. The MV KAYLA was tied up in front of MOHAI picking up passengers for a planned weekend in Poulsbo when radio calls for an overturned seaplane were heard on channel 16.

Within minutes a Police boat was seen speeding toward the scene and arrived shortly thereafter. Minutes after their arrival it was announced that the two passengers had been safely rescued. Water temperature in Lake Union, at the time of the incident, were approximately 52F degrees.

There was a fair bit of radio traffic between Seattle Police and the US Coast Guard, which monitors radio traffic on channel 16. Beside a concern for safety, officials were also interested in knowing how much fuel was aboard and whether it had been contained.

While we weren’t able (or required) to render aid, we did manage to cruise nearby after the incident and captured some photos which later appeared on KING5 News.

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There’s always lots of seaplane traffic in Lake Union, though, most of the traffic is from Kenmore Air which has an outstanding safety record. We believe that the accident we were near involved a private, non-commercial craft.


Would you be prepared to haul a person out of the lake and into your boat, if needed? Have you practiced MOB (man overboard) rescue scenarios? With boating season fast (though not fast enough) approaching it’s worth studying up on water rescue and survival techniques. I know we need to on board MV KAYLA. We also need to obtain a 5:1 lifting tackle.

Imagine you or your spouse having to lift a 200+ lb adult out of the water? Now add in some weight for water soaked clothing. And, consider that they might be unconscious! Plan. Train. Practice. Repeat. Here are some links to posts other’s have done on rescuing people in the water as well as a link to a 5:1 ratio lifting tackle harness.

On a related note, the Seattle Sail & Power Squadron organizes a Sea Skills event every Spring and will be demonstrating MOB rescue techniques this year. If you’ve never heard of the Sail & Power Squadron, it’s a great organization to join and become involved with. Beside hosting social events and boating rendezvous, they offer classes in a wide variety of topics including navigation, weather, engine maintenance, seamanship, and more. This year’s Sea Skills event, taking place at Shilshole Marina, will be held May 9th through May 10th.

Wireless Headsets – a vital accessory for larger boats

“Ok, Straight back. Ten feet, five feet, stop. Stop! STOP!” Have you ever been in a conversation like that with your spouse, on your boat? If your boat is reasonably sized then it has probably been pretty easy to talk to someone spotting your position or helping you with instructions from the lock master.

Now consider having to depend upon those same, important verbal queues on a much larger boat, perhaps one with limited visibility or a completely enclosed bridge.

Our latest boat, the MV KAYLA, is a good 15 feet longer and many tons heavier then our previous boat. While its larger size and weight has delivered comfort and stability, it has also proved more difficult to safely maneuver in tight spots – like our marina or the Ballard Locks. Even with the benefit that Zeus Pod drives and joystick control bring, there’s no substitute for clear communications among the crew when relaying important information.

No one wants to damage their vessel or, worse, risk injury with someone falling into the water while wrangling a line or assisting during docking.

When we first received the KAYLA last May we purchased a set of Eartec Simultec 24G wireless headsets. They promised clear, full-duplex (meaning we didn’t have to push any buttons and could have a normal conversation) communications that my wife and I would use when docking or transiting the locks. We used them a few times and, at in the beginning, they seemed to operate reasonably well. But, they weren’t very comfortable and the headset and radio were separate pieces that were, sometimes, hard to attach to our life vests.

SPH10

More recently we upgraded to what we believed would be a superior headset – the Sena SPH10-10 Headset – and, so far, we’ve been very pleased. The units are easy to use and are far more comfortable than the Eartec units. The radio and headset are one unit. There’s nothing to dangle. No wires to worry about. The Sena headsets are all-digital, whereas the Eartec units were not and required flipping switches to change frequencies in case there was interference (we never had any).

Sena appears to be a recognized leader in wireless recreational headsets and counts the motorcycle market, among others, as their core audience. I first discovered them in a Yachting magazine and found that they were available directly on Amazon.com. At approximately $150 each they’re not inexpensive (the Eartec units are similarly priced). But, consider the cost of damaging your swim deck or the side of your boat because you couldn’t hear your spouse’s shouts from your pilot house or through the glass of your bridge.

Charging and setting up the SPH10-10 headsets was easy. Any USB power source will work, though the larger cubes designed for devices like iPads are better than the little ones that charge phones.

Configuring the units was also easy. We set ours up to talk to one another. However, the SPH10-10s can be configured to work with any Bluetooth audio device, such as a mobile phone.

Similar to the Eartec units, the Sena SPH10-10s allow you to conduct full-duplex conversations. That means you talk normally, as if the person you were talking to was directly in front of you. There are no buttons to push. Nothing to activate. The unit comes with two types of microphones. We opted to attach the included extension (and flexible) boom mic. When we’re in the locks I can usually hear the lock master as he or she delivers commands to Cathia at the same time she’s hearing them. When docking, and Cathia is near the swim deck, I can clearly hear her deliver distance and directional queues critical to my safely returning KAYLA to her slip.

There are other headsets available. Eartec even makes a professional set, but they’re way more expensive than the Sena units. If you’ve got a big boat, or one with limited access or visibility you might consider acquiring a set of wireless communication headsets. I’d label them important safety tools. Some have called them marriage savers.

An ideal smoke alarm for boats

Did you know that boat manufacturers (from small cruisers to big yachts) continue to sell and deliver their products without installing integrated smoke alarms? Boats with enclosed cabins will typically come with carbon monoxide detectors, but it’s rare for smoke and fire detectors to be present – despite the clear and obvious benefit to health and safety.

Recently I discovered a smoke and fire detector that seems purpose built for boats. It’s small, battery powered, easy to install and has a piercing audible alarm. Manufactured by First Alert, the SMOKE1000 Atom Micro Photoelectric Smoke Detector has found a place aboard our boat the MV KAYLA.

First Alert Smoke 1000

First Alert SMOKE1000 (left) seems ideal for boats. It was installed next to the built-in carbon monoxide detector that the vessel’s manufactured provided.

Although I’ve linked to Amazon for the SMOKE1000, I discovered them at Loews for a few dollars less at under $20/each. If you need several there’s also a three-pack available through Amazon.

If your boat has an enclosed cabin with sleep quarters and you don’t have a smoke detector it’s imperative you acquire and install one. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

 

Boating First Aid & Fire Safety Course

I was recently invited to present a short, 50 minute course at a recent Sea Skills event organized by the Seattle Chapter of the United States Sail & Power Squadron. Drawing upon my interests and background as a volunteer Firefighter and EMT, I produced the presentation linked below.

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Providing useful emergency assistance while on the water mostly takes common sense and some very basic skills.

First Aid & Fire Safety: A Quick Guide for Recreational Boaters

If you have questions, suggestions, or corrections, please reach out to me.