The river is already quieter now. More boatless moorings. Seasonal boaters have squeezed out the last of summer’s gaiety. Through the pines lining our river bank, we see the occasional white sail slipping silently by, heading to a safe haven for a winter “on the hard.” A few leaves are starting to turn. And the hummingbirds will soon disappear, commencing their long migration southward after taking their last long sips of nectar. Some of us retirees will keep our boats on the water as long as we dare, until the chill fall air makes inevitable the decision to haul them out. It has been a good season on the water.
At least it was for me, until a couple weeks ago, when I left the town landing at slack tide, “the dock got too close,” and I dinged our boat’s wooden stern. My fault. The dock was an innocent bystander.
My wife reassured me. “It’s just wood,” she said,” and the Bryants (of Riverside Boat Company) can fix it.”
I suppose there isn’t a boat anywhere that hasn’t gotten a scrape here or there. Each scar teaches a lesson.
I learned a lot from Capt. Sandy Young in Boothbay when I had a coffee with him after I’d dinged my old 21-foot Pulsifer Hampton. Sandy’s a graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy who has years of experience in the merchant marine and served on ships up to 800ft LOA (length overall) up and down the eastern seaboard.
He reminded me how a boat pivots when you’re steering it (Hint: it’s not like a car!).
“A good boater,” he said, “should be thinking ahead of the ship all the time.”
Meaning: Out on the water, you’ve always got to be on the lookout, alert, aware, and anticipate.
In other words, good boaters don’t multi-task. They don’t text or work a crossword puzzle at the tiller. Sure, you can chat with a passenger when you’re under way, but when you’re docking or leaving dock, you need to give it your full attention. It’s like parking or un-parking at Hannaford, except on the water you’ve got wind and currents. Doesn’t matter how big or small your boat, or whether you’re a salt or fresh-water boater, safe boating requires your full attention.
(Maybe that’s why boating is so relaxing: To do it right, safely, you really have to jettison your land worries and focus your attention on the water.)
“Situation awareness,” is what Sandy called it when I told him about my experience at the landing. “Trouble happens fast,” he said.
Now “retired,” Sandy is a volunteer member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary operating out of Boothbay Harbor. There are around 35 volunteers working with Boothbay’s Coast Guard Auxiliary, most of them experienced boaters, certified to operate on behalf of the Coast Guard.
At the start of every boating season, the Coast Guard schedules the Auxiliary members and crews who’ll head out to patrol coastal waters on specific dates (mainly weekends) over the summer: The boating “high holidays” on Memorial Day or the Fourth or this past Labor Day, or at lobster boat races, for example.
Auxiliary members bring their own equipment, like heavy duty towing lines, and assist uninsured boaters, or rescue boaters who are in imminent danger. Each “coxswain” (or boat captain) is assisted by a crew of two, all of whom have gone through a rigorous qualification process that can take up to three years. You can recognize boats operating under orders of the Coast Guard by the red and white signs on their bows and their orange flags indicating “U.S. Coast Guard Patrol.”
By the way, Sandy says every passenger should have a PFD “immediately available.” Because you never know. And to be clear, he emphasized, “immediately available” doesn’t mean stored away in your cuddy.
As we sipped our coffees in Boothbay Harbor, it sank in (sorry) to me that boating may seem simple, but in truth, it really isn’t. Boaters really need to know basic seamanship and boat handling. And the best way to learn the basics is to take one of the America’s Boating Course boating classes taught by experienced Midcoast boaters like Sandy. Maine is, according to the American Boating Association (2007), the only New England state that doesn’t require a boating education course. But required or not, the ABC course is a great idea, whether you’re a novice boater or just want to brush up on the basics.
Why not sign up for the online course (americasboatingcourse.com)? Or join an in-person class on boat handling in Topsham that starts mid-October? For class dates and location, email firstname.lastname@example.org
“Safe journey and always a hands breadth of water under your keel!”
(William Anthony is a member of the America’s Boating Club – Mid Coast Maine. He lives most of the year in Edgecomb on the Damariscotta River, whose waters he explores in a wooden boat built in Maine.)