Does Anyone Else Know How to Drive The Boat?

You’re out having a nice ride on the boat on a lovely day with friends and suddenly the driver becomes unable to drive. May be because of a health issue, was hurt or any other circumstance. Who can get the boat back to it’s origin or to safety for assistance, can you? If you are the only person that can drive the boat, perhaps you should think about training someone to take over should you become unable to drive. It’s not a complicated list of things to learn:

  • boatingIs there gas in the tank?
  • Is the battery able to start the engine?
  • Is the ‘deadman’ switch lanyard attached to the console and to the driver?
  • How to start the engine in Neutral and shift into Forward and Reverse?
  • Where is the switch to turn on the running lights if needed.
  • Where is the fire extinguisher?
  • Where are the life jackets?

Depending where on the lake the problem occurs, can the new driver get the boat back? Do they know what direction to go, are there any hazards around them, can they negotiate the Upper Narrows and the Sandy Narrows if needed, are they familiar with navigation and safety markers?

If the boat is on a mooring or dock, there are a couple things they need to know; when approaching a mooring, try to do it heading into the wind. The wind will slow the boat down a bit and allow control to be maintained to pick up the pennant (and also keep it in view and not going under the boat).

If the boat is on a dock, the wind direction may push you away or towards the dock and you have to compensate for that. Make sure the fenders are set before coming to the dock to prevent damage. Make sure dock lines are available at the bow and stern. When tying up, make sure the bow and stern lines are securely fixed to the dock cleats. Also run a fore and aft ‘spring line’ to the middle of the boat to prevent it from ‘walking’ back and forth along the dock.

Have the back-up driver practice the above on a regular basis to build their proficiency and confidence. That way, if the need arises they’ll be able to handle the situation and know what to do. It’s better to be prepared for an event that never happens than to be caught off-guard.

If you’d like boating information and a navigational chart of the lake, we have them on the Safety Boat and are happy to give them to you.

Kids Riding On The Bow While Underway

No Bowriding!Kids riding on the bow of a pontoon boat on a sunny warm day while underway is a lot of fun, enjoying the splashing of the water, and having a soft drink and a snack.

The truth is, a serious accident may only be minutes away. There are a lot of pontoon boats on Little Sebago and it seems to be the average size is about 22 feet with both longer and shorter ones. Let’s say your moving along at about 8 miles per hour (MPH) on your 22 foot boat, which is a nice crusing speed for an easy ride. Do you realize that 8 MPH is 11.7 feet per second? That means that the boat travels 23.4 feet in two seconds, which is longer than the boat!

If something happens that causes the feet of one of the kids on the bow to get pulled in by a wave, or a sudden movement and they fall off you have less than 2 seconds to prevent a very serious accident. Assuming you heard or were told the person has fallen off, and whether you were concentrating on driving and not distracted with conversation or other involvement, you are most likely out of time to prevent any very serious accidents.

The inside distance between the pontoons underneath is about four and a half feet and the height of the aluminum deck structure above the water is about 16 inches. Tri-hull pontoon boats have an underneath distance of about 18-24 inches between hulls.

The first thing that may happen is the person (assuming they are wearing a life jacket) pops up and may hit their head on the aluminum framework, or bounce off one of the hulls. About 18 feet from the bow is the engine mounting structure. This is a reinforced aluminum structure that has a very sharp entry point facing forward. If the person impacts with this, more serious injury can result. Tri-hull boats have the engine mounting structure attached to the middle hull.

Traveling aft, the distance between the pontoon and engine structure is about 18 inches wide on either side. Assuming the person doesn’t impact with the engine mounting structure and is pushed between the pontoon and the engine structure, the next possible injury would be to hit the thrust plate on the outboard engine that’s about six inches below the surface or worse, the spinning propeller which may be about a foot below the surface. Either way, an extremely severe injury may occur.

This is not written to incite fear or cause panic, but to make you aware of the possible serious things that could happen in a split second! The faster you are moving, the shorter response time you have to act if something happens. If the kids want to sit on the bow, do it while stopped or anchored.

The Warden’s office said there is no law that is violated in doing this, but they did say that the Warden may come over and educate you on the hazards of doing this. The Safety Boat will also approach you and educate you about these hazards if we see this.

Wearing A Life Jacket When Alone

Lifejacket“I don’t need a life jacket, I can swim fine”. How many times have I heard this one? I don’t doubt your swimming ability, but the circumstance in which you may be thrown into the water is the determining factor. If it’s a beautiful 80 degree sunny day with light winds and waves, you’d probably be okay without a life jacket (not that I’m advocating that), BUT if you are alone on the boat and a thunderstorm is coming or a wind/rain squall is on the horizon and you’re trying to get back and the deck is slippery from rain/wind, those are very different circumstances which may not turn out the way you’d like.

Having sailed for 40 years on the ocean, we’ve always worn life jackets and safety harnesses when off-shore. I always wear a life jacket as I don’t swim. You’ll always see me and Pepper wearing life jackets on the Safety Boat (she doesn’t swim either).

LanyardLet’s assume you don’t have a life jacket on and for whatever reason, you end up in the water. When you went over, the boat was under way. In addition to not having a life jacket on, the other problem is that you most likely didn’t have that little red coiled up ‘deadman’ switch lanyard attached to your belt or other clothing, which means the boat continues on its’ merry way without you!

Engine propellers rotate in either a clockwise or counter clockwise direction. That means the boat will eventually turn in a right or left direction and make very wide circles before impacting with something (another boat, YOU, island or shore). So now you’re in the lake in not-so-great conditions without anyone else around to help you. Had you had a life jacket on, you’d at least be able to float for a while and depending on where you were in the lake, possibly make it to some landfall. The time of year also makes a difference on whether you’re affected by hypothermia.

Let’s say that you did have the deadman switch lanyard attached to you and the engine stopped when you went over. That’s great, BUT you now have to figure out how to get back on the boat in less than ideal conditions (with or without a lifejacket). Depending on what you have on for clothing; jacket, swimsuit, pants, etc., the water will soak into them and weigh you down. Climbing up onto slippery aluminum or fiberglass is not easily done, especially if your loaded down with water soaked clothes. There are no real ‘grab’ points that you can use to lift or pull yourself up, even if you’re strong enough.

My advice is; Never go out alone, wear a lifejacket AND make sure the ‘deadman’ lanyard is always attached to you.

Moorings, Chains, Connections and Lines

As another boating season approaches, I’ve put together some information on moorings, lines, chains, and connections used to secure boats/floats/docks on the lake. Every year during storms or high-water levels we hear of boats, floats, docks, and other things breaking loose due to rusted chains, chafed lines, or other gear failures. The information below is provided to help minimize the loss of these items.

MooringMoorings: Moorings come in many different types and sizes. The best ones are mushroom mooring anchors and granite blocks. Mushroom moorings, when properly installed, are extremely hard to pull out. Granite blocks are next best as they lose less of their mass in water. Cement blocks are the hardest to use as they cut through any line tied to them and lose a lot of their mass in the water. Use a mooring commensurate with the size and weight of the vessel being moored. Moorings should be inspected periodically to ensure they are in good order and not disintegrating. Replace as necessary.

Chain: Chains should be inspected periodically, and chains should be replaced due to corrosion. Although we are in a lake, the steel chain will over time rust and wear out. Using a high-quality galvanized chain will prolong the life of it.

Plan to use more than the maximum high-water depth the mooring is in for chain needed. Allow extra length for proper scope as well as extreme high lake levels. Typically, the amount of chain used can be one-and one-half times the maximum depth of water the item is moored in, or more depending on the amount of area that is available. In the Fall, chains that are dropped completely in the water lie in the mud and corrode less than chains that are left attached to a mooring ball/winter log.

Shackles: Always use shackles to connect chains to mooring lines, swivels, hooks, etc. Use high quality galvanized or stainless-steel shackles. ALWAYS use a nylon wire tie to fasten the pin to the shackle to prevent it from coming loose and pulling out. Use shackles the same size as the chain they are being connected to.

Swivels: Swivels should always be used when connecting a chain to a mooring line. Use a swivel commensurate with the size chain it’s being attached to. Swivels allow the item on top to rotate around the mooring chain, so the mooring chain won’t wrap around itself and eventually pull out the mooring resulting in the item possibly floating away. Always use high quality galvanized or stainless-steel swivels.

Mooring lines: Mooring lines should always have a thimble at the end that connects to the chain to prevent chafing and cutting. Thimbles come in galvanized steel, stainless steel, and high strength nylon with stainless being the most expensive. Three-strand nylon is the best as it has a slight stretch factor that allows the craft to move slightly under strain. Always use a size-matched thimble for the line being used. All lines using a thimble should be spliced to ensure the line doesn’t come undone during strain.

All mooring lines that pass through a chock or are exposed to a rough or sharp surface should have chafing gear installed. Chafing gear are sacrificial material that guards against the line being cut. Chafing gear should be inspected frequently and replaced as needed.

Pontoon boats, jet skis, etc., that use hooks to connect to their bow eyes should ensure the spring-loaded clasp on the inside of the hook is functional and in good working order. Replace it if it is sticky or the spring is broken.

Dock Lines: Craft that are secured to a dock should use lines that are appropriate for the size of the craft. Three-strand nylon is the best as it has a slight stretch factor that allows the craft to move slightly under strain. Spring lines can be used for additional boat stability. Spring lines run toward the middle of the craft from the bow and stern dock cleats and enable the craft to stay in one place on the dock by not rocking back and forth along the dock.

Mooring ballMooring Balls: The Maine DEP requires all mooring balls to be white with a blue stripe along the horizontal diameter.

For more information refer to Chapman, The Boater’s Handbook: The Indispensable Look-It-Up Book.

Feel free to contact the Safety Boat with any questions. We are always happy to speak with boaters!