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Safe at Sea: Another required piece of safety equipment

By Staff | Feb 18, 2020

Each season, the America’s Boating Club completes thousands of Vessel Safety Checks, which are offered free – and at your chosen location – by the organization. In short, the check takes the boat owner through a U.S. Coast-Guard-approved list of safety equipment required to be on board all boats.

Surprisingly, the large of safety-check failures are caused by the lack of one of three pieces of safety equipment. Last week’s column covered the first of these: visual distress signals. This week’s column will discuss the second piece of equipment: sound-producing devices. Granted, the vast majority of boats have a factory-installed horn; however, very few boaters know the regulations involving its use.

The Navigation Rules require the use of a sound-producing device (commonly the boat’s horn) during periods of limited visibility and in meeting, crossing and over-taking situations. The law states that the captain must have some means of making an efficient sound signal. This is true for kayaks and canoes (yes, Vessel Safety Checks include kayaks and canoes).

For “self-propelled” watercrafts, the most convenient sound-producing device is a whistle, which should be attached to Personal Flotation Devices (life jackets), thus within immediate reach of those on kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.

The law states that any vessel less that 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length must carry a whistle, horn or some other means of making a sound to signal the boater’s intention and to signal its position in periods of reduced visibility. Note, a whistle should be used as back-up to the other more powerful devices of a boat’s horn or an air horn (great for self-propelled boats).

A tip from the text for the America’s Boating Course:

“Horns using cans of compressed air offer an excellent choice for sound-producing signals. Bear in mind that the canisters hold a limited amount of propellant, so make sure you have adequate spares. If you encounter reduced visibility, you will be using your horn frequently.”

Boats longer than 39.4 feet, when operating on inland waters of the United States, are required to carry a whistle or a horn and a bell. Note, the bell is no longer required on International Waters.

Don’t learn that your safety equipment does not meet regulations the hard way: when you are pulled aside by the Coast Guard! One way to be sure? Consider scheduling a free Vessel Safety Check.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.