Vice Commander...Ahoy!

Vice Commander…Ahoy!

The following piece is published in this month’s Put-in-Bay Gazette. The Gazette has been producing incredible independent Put-in-Bay island news for over 40 years. If you have any interest at all in what is happening on South Bass Island, we urge you strongly to subscribe to the Put-in-Bay Gazette. One-year online subscriptions are only $15, and print subscriptions are available as well. Subscribe to this amazing Gazette.


Now that it is mid boating season, it is a good time to go over some do’s and don’ts.  We’ll call this our mid Summer refresher.

Swimming in the Marina

On several occasions last week I saw multiple boats moored near the Boardwalk with their passengers swimming in the marina. This is an extremely bad idea! First it is a violation of both Federal and State law to do so, but beyond that you risk death by electrocution.  Without going deep into the physics, here are a few important facts where death is possible when swimming in an area that has relatively low amounts of current in the water as illustrated below. Source: OSHA

17-99 mA — Extreme pain, respiratory arrest, severe muscular contractions. Individual cannot let go of an electrified object. Death is possible.

100-2,000 mA — Ventricular fibrillation (uneven, uncoordinated pumping of heart). Muscular contraction and nerve damage begin to occur. Death is likely.

2,000+ mA — Cardiac arrest, internal organ damage and severe burns. Death is probable.

How much current: In 2008, the Coast Guard concluded that less than a third of the electricity used to light a 40-watt light bulb (100 mA) passing directly through the heart is almost always fatal. The law requires that you stay out of the water for a distance not less than 100 yards from a marina (the length of a NFL football field). Please resist the urge to take a plunge into the water while docked or moored at our (or any other) marina. Unfortunately we’ve had electrocutions here before, one just a of couple years ago. This is not a joke.

Life Jackets

More people don’t than do…wear life jackets while boating. That’s my unofficial observation but I stand by it. While you are not required to wear them (with one exception that we’ll talk about in a moment), you are required to have one USCG approved life jacket (PFD) on board for each passenger. The exception is that children under the age of 10 in a boat less than 18 feet must wear a life jacket which is not optional. Let’s talk about that for a moment. For example,  if you have a 3-, 4- or 5-year old on board your vessel that happens to be 20’ instead of 18’ are you really not going to have those young ones wear a life jacket? Sadly, the answer for many is yes. I’ve seen it more than once. How about an elderly passenger, perhaps a relative that doesn’t swim or swim well. Even though they are not required to wear a life jacket, are you really not going to insist that they don one? Finally, you and some of your college buddies spend a Saturday afternoon sampling libations at some of Put-in-Bay’s fine watering establishments. Chuck, former captain of the water polo team and a great swimmer has a few too many and at the end of the day stumbles his way back on to the boat. Are you really not going to insist that he wear a life jacket as you pull out of the harbor? To sum it up, I wear a life jacket every time I’m on board and underway even if I’m only going from my slip to the fuel dock. I also require that everyone on board my vessel wear a life jacket without exception. A boating accident can happen in a flash and the only thing that may separate you from life and death is wearing your life jacket. I am a seasoned boater, a trained boat crew member of an Auxiliary Unit of the United States Coast Guard and a strong swimmer.  If I wear a life jacket every time I’m underway, shouldn’t you as well as your passengers?

Overcrowding your Boat and Other Bad Practices

Another not so uncommon practice that I’ve witnessed in the waters around PIB is the overcrowding of a boat with passengers. This often goes hand in hand with people sitting on the gunwales, transom and riding on top of a closed bow while the vessel is underway. As the skipper, the Coast Guard expects you to know the legal capacity of your vessel. This information is usually on what’s called a “Capacity Plate,” usually located at the helm or near the outboard on an open vessel like some Bass Boats. The capacity plate will give the maximum number of passengers that the boat was designed to safely transport. It will also give the maximum total weight that the boat is capable of safely transporting. Overcrowding your vessel is a navigation hazard which can lead to capsizing or sinking the boat in general. Having people riding the gunwales or the back of the transom is a “Man Overboard” waiting to happen. The worst duty that I sometimes pull is on the bow of one of our closed bow vessels. To me this is the most dangerous location on the boat. Walking the gunwale to the bow is narrow. The railing is low which offers little protection and the bow is slippery and pitched. It always amazes me when I see passengers stretched out on the bow of an underway vessel. Hit a good wave and they could be thrown off the boat into the water possibly to be hit by the boat or the boat’s propeller. I saw this happen once in Miami near Overhaul Inlet. Finally, an overcrowded vessel can be a distraction to the skipper who is legally responsible for everything that takes place on her vessel. 

Unsafe Zones

 Something I’ve mentioned before and am actually seeing happen more often are boats sailing through areas that in past years have been unsafe to traverse. Because of the unusually high water levels over the past several years, some boaters have become accustomed to taking shortcuts through areas that are typically too shallow to pass safely.  Some new boaters may simply not be aware of these dangerous low water areas. Some of them include the north tip of North Bass Island, the passage between Catawba Point and Mouse Island, the area between Oak Point State park and Gibraltar Island, and there are several others. The danger will be that new boaters or boaters new to our area, unaware of these hazards and who have grown accustom to traveling through these areas may find themselves at risk of running aground or worse when water levels return to normal and they will eventually return to normal. The answer? Up to date charts and/or knowing how to read and understand the information on your marine GPS. I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing the waters that you sail in and the best way to do that is with nautical charts, in my opinion.

If we all boat responsibly we can make 2020 one of the safest boating seasons in our area of the Great Lakes.

This piece of Put-in-Bay journalism has been provided to courtesy of the Put-in-Bay Gazette, Put-in-Bay’s only local newspaper. Visit their website for more information and to subscribe!