Saturday, June 19, 2021

It Was Almost a Disaster!

I was conducting new boater training yesterday for a couple of young guys, and I wanted to show them the importance of understanding the difference between lateral aids to navigation marking a "river returning from the sea," and the aids that mark the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The "red" river "marks" or lateral aids to navigation are kept on the right side of your boat as you travel upstream. ICW marks are DIFFERENT. On the ICW  the red marks should be kept on the mainland side; or on the right side of your boat as you travel south on the ICW. ICW marks have a small yellow mark within the larger green or red mark.

There is a hazardous situation at the cut between the south channel and the north channels of the Savannah River.

The Coast Guard emphasizes this by having two red marks very close together! A large rock pile was deposited on the "wrong" side of those two marks, probably during the making of the cut. (Red #2 and Red #4). 

Here's the trap. A green mark is marking the north channel of the Savannah river near these two red ICW marks. THAT GREEN MARK IS NOT AN ICW MARK.

Yes, I am shouting, just as I was shouting yesterday with those two kids on the boat.

I saw a family-sized runabout coming out of the river from downtown. He was aiming  between a green river mark and a red ICW mark. And they were headed  directly for that submerged rock pile. I first thought to get some good pictures for training. Then I saw kids on that boat.

"Stop the boat! Stop right now! I've got to try and stop that boat over there!"

I stood in the bow and waved my arms rapidly over my head to get the other boats attention. Then I swept both arms in the direction AWAY from where I knew the rocks to be. Repeatedly.

Thank God the dude stopped, then turned back toward the river and safe water. I drove over by him and stopped.

"Sir, there is a pile of rocks just under the surface right (pointing) THERE! You almost ran right up on it. That would have been bad.

In the ICW you need to have the red marks on the right side of your boat as you go (pointing) SOUTH. That green mark you were looking at over there is a RIVER mark. Not an ICW mark!"

He looked embarassed, and said "Thanks! We didn't know."

So I felt a little dumb for being overly dramatic, but the kids didn't get ejected. 

Friends, it is one thing to run up on a mud bank, and many of us have done it. Rocks are different. They will hole your boat, remove your lower unit, and maybe flip your boat and eject you and your loved ones. Training is FREE at FREE!!! 

Pay attention, please!!!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Docking Like A Pro When You're Not

 For a new boater, docking is perhaps the most stressful part of a day on the water. Time and again we see boaters struggle with control of their boat as they put on a show for bystanders and boaters alike. But it doesn't need to be that way!

The first thing to do is consider the environment around the dock you are approaching. You can do this before you get there. You absolutely don't want to be repositioning fenders and dock lines as you are on the final approach to your mooring point. 

"Prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance." Expand your time available for the docking maneuver by thinking ahead!

Is there a tide running? (crab trap floats?) Is the wind blowing? (flags?) Which of these two forces is having the greatest effect on your vessel? If you know how your destination dock is oriented you can plan to put your fenders and lines on the side that allows you to make your approach INTO the current or wind, whichever is stronger. It's a very good practice to stop your boat well away from the dock, pointed at it. Observe what the wind and current are doing to you. Now verify or place your fenders and lines.

Current isn't something to be afraid of, it's something to work with. If you are working against a current as you approach a dock, it's very easy to get rid of headway; just go to neutral with your shifter! Come to think of it, when you are approaching a dock, neutral is your friend. Only use as much time in gear as absolutely needed to maintain control of the boat.

Think of balancing a baseball bat that is standing upright on your palm; as long as you keep your hand under the bat, you can do it. If you let the bat get too far off-center, it's going to fall. When you have your boat's bow into a strong current, the current is like the gravity that works on the bat, and the motor is like your palm that must stay under the bat. Don't let it get away from you. Easy with the power and steering...

Never make an approach to a corner of a dock! (read that again!) Your fenders will protect the side of your boat as you make contact with a flat dock face. But a corner will hole your boat!

One sure sign of a boater in a panic is loud bursts of full power near a dock. This often ends badly. Think ahead, take the easiest option available and take your time. If you don't like how the maneuver is going, break off the approach, go away from the dock, and collect yourself. Relax, calm down, and try it again. Slow and steady, friend!

Keep your dock lines clear of knots and snags. You may need that line to slide
smoothly from around the horn of a cleat someday.

If the wind is blowing onto the dock, and you have a spot to go to on the outer face, all you need to do is make your approach slowly and under control (use short pulses of power by putting the motor just in gear for a couple of seconds, then back to neutral). You can make a shallow angle approach or even an approach parallel to the dock. When you are abeam your spot, stop and let the wind do the work of moving you sideways.

If a strong wind is blowing OFF the dock, make your approach angle steeper. Position an assistant near the bow (or ask for help on the dock) to place a bow line around a cleat. (Keep fingers from between cleat and line). With the front of the boat attached to the dock, turn the wheel toward the dock and place the engine just in reverse (minimal power). The engine will pull the rear of the boat into the dock. The fenders will cushion the contact. And you can then fasten a stern line to a cleat. 

Warn your passengers to keep feet and hands inside the boat during docking. Fiberglass is cheaper than fingers. They should stay seated and still while you are working the boat to the dock. 

Make sure that boat is secured to the dock at both ends and protected by fenders before leaving. You might need to adjust lines more than once. If you need to move the fenders, do so. Take the time to do this right. Make it look like a pro did it!


Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Pie of Knowledge

 With the exception of a few years early on, my entire adult working life has been focused on moving people and cargo from one place to another. I spent 12 years flying the massive CH- and MH-47 Chinook Helicopter, carrying soldiers on the inside and 18000-pound howitzers slung underneath. 

In Honduras, I took doctors and veterinarians on "MEDRETS" to assist rural villages located far from any modern anything. I flew tons upon tons food to starving people in the interior. In Liberia, I flew men, women, and children who were at risk of being brutally murdered to safety.

At the end of my military career, I flew special forces operators who drove their inflatable boats straight into the back of my helicopter while we hovered with our cabin partially submerged. 

As an avid boater, it was only natural that I would come to move people by boat. I mean, what a great place to work! Mike Neal, the owner of Bull River Cruises, gave me my break into commercial boating and has counseled me every step of the way. He also recently hooked me up with one of the greatest adventures of my life, an eleven-day boating marathon that had us working on the water from first light to twilight. It was epic.

A production company is in town filming the "Devotion" movie. As much of this film involves aircraft flying over water, safety boats were needed in case an aircraft was forced to ditch. Divers stood on standby, ready to go into the water and extract pilots. They did this on a boat that I captained. Fun? You betcha.

Offshore and on duty. Ready to respond. Captain Mike Neal.

Savannah Firefighter, USCG officer, and rescue-diver Scott
speaks with stunt-man and rescue-diver David as we depart a
new Savannah Boathouse Marina in the 28'.

I put this route into the 28's SIMRAD EVO3 in order to help
with exiting the Wilmington River. There are numerous bars
and breakers off our barrier islands, and "you must follow a
channel or you risk losing the boat." (Cpt. Scott) Our track
lines tell a story.

Our boat for this multi-day lifeguard mission was the 28' NauticStar owned by Tommy McCarthy and Savannah's Freedom Boat Club. A special lease agreement was reached with the understanding that I would operate the boat. #winning

I ran her 829 miles and burned 457 gallons in 11 days.
I'd start again tomorrow.

Good Morning!

Our days started early and ended late, and often I ran home solo, alone with my thoughts but certainly not lonely. The 28' proved herself to be a fine friend. The 600 horses helped.

Rescue divers have a lot of gear. And David brought the snacks too.
I had my first ever "Clif Bar" but not my last.
Movie people don't go hungry.

Wyatt; an actor, stunt-man, former USCG member, and current
rescue diver. He was a constant source of laughter and fun, as indicated
by the look on Mike's face. Hey, I thought it was funny!

So did Wyatt...

One thing about boating; the more you do it, the more you learn. Scott mentioned something he has become aware of as a platform instructor for both fire-service-related and maritime-related topics. 

"If you consider knowledge as a pie, there's a little sliver that constitutes what you know. Then there's another little slice that's the stuff you know you don't know. But the vast majority of that pie-of-knowledge? That's all the stuff that you are simply unaware of. You don't even know all the stuff you don't know. So never stop digging and learning." (Captain Scott Boyd)

Ignorance is no excuse for damaging equipment or hurting someone. If you don't know what you are doing on the water, don't do it. Ask for help. If you don't know how to dock a boat, get some instruction. The fact that the government lets you take to the water without a clue is no reason to do this. Take a class (the one from Boat US is F.R.E.E.). Click here to see for yourself.

As for me, I'm 64 years old and have been boating my whole life. I know a lot about operating a boat. And then again I don't know crap. So I took full advantage of the experience around me on those eleven days and asked a thousand questions; continuously eating from the pie of knowledge.

"Clutch In!"

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Just Like the Port of Savannah--Our Waterside Port Tour is Super!

It's one thing to see it in a picture. It's another thing entirely to be next to it in our boat!
Here's a China Overseas Shipping Company container ship arriving at the Port of Savannah!


Savannah was created by people sailing up our river on ships. Even before Europeans came here in the 1500s, Native Americans paddled the river in dugout canoes. The river has been a highway for trade since time out of mind. 

"The Port of Savannah is home to the largest single-terminal container facility of its kind in North America, encompassing 1,345 acres. Moving millions of tons of containerized cargo annually, Savannah is also the third-busiest container gateway in the U.S., providing greater scheduling flexibility and market reach with direct links to I-95 and I-16, on-terminal rail, and 36 weekly container ship calls. The Port of Savannah is the most westerly port on the Atlantic seaboard, providing shorter transit times and greater efficiency for cargo destined for major inland markets. A hundred miles closer to Atlanta than any other port, Savannah offers superior connections to multiple markets by road and rail." (GPA)

Here's a video about what goes on aboard a ship visiting the Port of Savannah. Video courtesy Brian Boyle.

Our Port is a vibrant exciting place. The ships plying our waters are behemoths! Watching the tugs help them in and out of their moorings is impressive. If you want to see it all in person, call Island Shuttle Boat Tours at 912 657-5222 today!

This is the Port Of Savannah. We are Island Shuttle Boat Tours. "We go there."

Friday, March 26, 2021

Hickory Dickery Dock... The Boat Just Sank Like a Rock!

I am on at Atlanta for the NASCAR race and my phone rings. It's Dr. Donohue Waters, who lives next door to the community dock.  He says "Hey! I'm looking at my dock cam and there's a boat sunk at the community dock!" 

I reply, "please tell me it's not mine!" 

"Nope, it's not yours!"  

I feel a flood of relief.

I have an idea of which boat it is, but I'm not sure, so I call the dock club president. He already knows about it. And so does the owner. Towboat US is on the way for a salvage recovery. In short order, they raise her with an airbag or two, tow her away, and tally up a major bill that will have to be paid by insurance or out of the owner's pocket. 

Having your boat sink sucks, and is to be avoided if at all possible. 

For a boater, there are few sights more forlorn and sad than that of a sunken boat. Whether she's down on her luck, down by the head,  or completely upside down, a boat isn't supposed to be sunk. 

The first thing that comes to mind is that someone has made a mistake--and whether it's an error of action or inaction, it's bad. You've probably heard that a stitch in time saves nine. Well, when it comes to a boat, a few dollars and a few minutes of work spent now may save a boatload of money later. And later may come sooner than you think.

In the case of this vessel, I observed her laying significantly lower in the water a few weeks ago after days of heavy rain. I alerted the owner who came and got the water out of her. What he failed to do however was to take that near-miss to heart and make sure his stuff was tight and right. And while I was enjoying a NASCAR race last weekend, Savannah had a whole bunch of rain come down. 

Having a good bilge pump in working order, an automatic switch that will turn it on in the event of flooding, and a strong battery to power it are the keys to this not happening to you. The salvage bill for this event will be in the thousands of dollars. The electronics are ruined. The engine may be ruined. When it comes to a boat, out of sight must NOT be out of mind. In the event you are in the middle of getting your boat in good order when storms come, you may need to get your butt off the couch and go check on your boat. And take a good bailer. 

Folks often underestimate how little water it takes inside your boat hull to sink her. If you have a cutout transom, a few inches of water inside her, and your stern pointed in the wrong direction, that slight reduction of freeboard is what allows wind-driven waves to finish the job. It takes less than you might think. 

Sidebar: If your dock has a prevailing wind or wave direction, put the pointy end of your boat that way. 

We had to moor this little skiff with her bow toward the open water in Islamorada.
At night, the waves got big. If we had put her stern to them, she'd have sunk.

Even with a good battery and bilge pump (or two or more of each) you have to keep up with what's happening down below. In the case of a float switch, any piece of debris sloshing around might become lodged in the float and keep the pump running until the batteries run out of power. On the other hand, a piece of gear, like a throw-cushion (a type-4 PFD) or a loose fender might find itself interfering with the float operation. Then the pump, she no come on...

You have to attend to this stuff. Don't procrastinate.  Putting it off can end badly. Whether the bill is big or little, it's bad and it's sad and it doesn't need to happen. 

Talk about a crying shame...

Monday, February 1, 2021


 In the 90s, I  wrote an article for the Nightstalker's in-house newsletter (IP Inbound) entitled "Demo Fever."  and after it was published a fellow 3rd Herder said to me "I can't believe you wrote that about yourself!" 

I told on myself because I realized that if I was thinking and doing these things others might be as well, and perhaps my shared experience might help someone avoid making my mistake. The theme of that article, discussing what happens to your heart, head, and hands when you are doing a flight demonstration, came up again when I revised Demo Fever for Vertical 911 Magazine. That was a story about one of my first flights as a Chinook Pilot-in-Command at Fort Bragg. I almost made history. 

All of us understand that we need to learn how to operate a machine, but more of us should understand that we need to learn how to operate people too--most especially ourselves.

The need for honest self-assessment and personal performance-review never leaves us. I am a boat captain now, and the same hard truths that thumped me over the head as a pilot continue to thump me over the head today. Just yesterday I was doing a mid-winter run on my 6-pack boat to charge batteries, circulate fluids, and wash off the bottom. It was windy and cold and I went about a mile from our dock and said to myself, "screw this." I turned around. I was idling under the Highway 80 bridge when the boat thumped under my feet. It sounded like I was running aground over hard stuff. 

My brain said to me, "you are in deep water, you can't be running aground!" WTH and WTF?

Being startled, I failed to perform a basic common-sense immediate-action step. PUT ENGINE(S) IN NEUTRAL and PRESS THE UP-TRIM SWITCH! The thumping feeling and sound moved toward the stern and then the idling engine jerked and jumped. A 6 foot-long 2 by 6-inch board rolled out from under the motor and rolled over in my wake. The nails that had once fastened it to someone's dock were sticking out of the ends. My next thought was, "thank God I didn't hit that at speed!"

I stopped the engine and trimmed it all the way up out of the water to check the prop for damage. All good.

So, after-action-review. Yesterday was the aftermath of a very high tide with high winds. Those conditions put more debris in the water, and the "wrack," (floating piles of marsh-grass debris) was everywhere. A tide that flushes out the wrack will flush out other debris too, so take care and expect this. Note to self: If your boat is hitting something underwater as you make way through it,  take immediate action to try and prevent damage to the lower unit and propeller. 

To train for this: Next time you are standing at your helm at the dock, pretend that you are driving the boat and say to yourself, "we are hitting something!" Practice putting your hand on the throttle and your thumb on the trim switch. Do this a few times to develop muscle memory and set the pattern in your brain. 

There are lots of things hanging out just beneath the surface, 
like manatees...

The opposite of being startled is anticipation. I vote that we anticipate trouble and hope that it never finds us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What You Don't See Can Hurt You!

This is a typical low-country creek at low tide, viewed from the causeway onto Callawassie Island
Those mounds of "pluff mud" are covered with oysters, and their shells are sharp! If you 
hit one at speed and get ejected, there will be blood.

Our tidal creeks are beautiful and full of hazards. The swirling currents of our 6 to 9-foot tides create deep holes down to 50 feet or more--here--and oyster reefs just under the surface there. With no rhyme or reason beyond fluid dynamics, these hazards are everywhere. When a rising tide covers them with a few inches of water, they are hidden.

Mike Neal owns Bull River Cruises and gave me my start in the tour business.  He is involved with movie production and took me up Groves Creek near Priest Landing last year. He was showing me where boat scenes from Gemini Man were filmed.  We were there on a flooding tide and at idle speed. 

Mike passed on a good strategy for exploring uncharted creeks. "If you want to go exploring a creek, go in shortly after a low tide, with more water becoming available shortly to float you off if you get stuck. You can better see the layout of the bottom then. Go slow!"

I would recommend a neap-low versus a spring-low so that you have some water available shortly after the low tide, but can still see the bars, mounds, and oyster-reefs or rakes.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Having someone along to draw a picture of the creek (with the hazards noted) and the route to follow, or just to take pictures, will help you on future trips. You will want your motor trimmed up part-way, but with more up-trim available should you need to stop and back off of a rising bottom. Go as slowly as you can while maintaining control. A lookout posted in the bow can help you spot hazards before you hit them--and be mindful that oysters will destroy your fiberglass finish if you run across them. Water leaving a creek near low tide will form a deeper channel. It may be in the middle, or it may hug one bank or the other. It probably won't follow a straight line but will wind back and forth across the width of the flood area. The outside of a curve is usually deeper, but not always. 

At high tide, the creek pictured above has enough water to go where you want, but clearly, the hazards become a problem as the tide falls. You don't want to get stuck in any creek on a falling tide unless you have hours to spare. 

Since you can't see where the hazards lie at high tide, that's not really the best time to go in somewhere new. And there might be a bar or rake high enough to stop you even on a high tide. Plotting a safe course (if one exists) on a rising tide is your best bet. 

Take care, and enjoy the scenery!

It Was Almost a Disaster!

I was conducting new boater training yesterday for a couple of young guys, and I wanted to show them the importance of understanding the dif...