Use your brain when boating

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 6, 2002

One of the best courses that the United States Coast Guard ever sent me to was Team Coordination Training (TCT). Taught in the Maritime Center of Toledo, Ohio, the course examined the effects of human effort on maritime mishaps and how we can minimize risk

and reduce the probability for human error by increasing individual and team effectiveness.

The training I received several years ago was especially valuable when I had command of a cutter home-ported in Portland. Over the next two weeks I’ll write about risks, safety considerations, and ways to improve coordination onboard a recreational boat. You’ll find that even if you are a &uot;day&uot; guest, you could play an important role in averting an accident or mishap.

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To set the stage on team coordination training I visited the Coast Guard Seventh District’s Auxiliary Web site at .

The comments made about Coast Guard operations are equally applicable to recreational boaters. &uot;Human error continues to be the most significant cause of U.S. Coast Guard mishaps. Studies have shown that 60% to 65% of cutter and boat navigation mishaps have had human error as a contributing cause. Ninety percent of the human error-caused mishaps were due to:

Poor Judgment: This includes not knowing or understanding the situation, loss of situational awareness, inadequate assessment of risks or environment, making &uot;go&uot; or &uot;No-go&uot; decisions that may have been prudent, and using incorrect information on decision making.

Inattention: Failing to monitor displays, not maintaining a good lookout, forgetting to do something or doing something improperly, and negligence.

Ineffective Supervision: Lax law enforcement standards, inadequate oversight, or not verifying the job was done correctly.&uot;

So how can this apply to a recreational boater? We will concentrate this week on the first item – Poor Judgment.

Why do people get under way on a recreational boat? To have a good time! From fishing to crabbing, from water skiing to tubing, recreational boating is fun. Unfortunately, armed with this attitude, recreational boaters sometimes do not understand the situation they are placing themselves in, and this is where their risk of injury increases.

I’ll give an example: One recreational boat is coming at a 90-degree angle to another. The Nautical Rules of the road are pretty clear who has the right of way. However, all of us have seen cases, even from the bridge of a cutter where the rules are violated. Not only does one or both boats place themselves in danger but, by not understanding the situation, they may also place other vessels in danger.

How do you minimize your risk and improve your safety? TCT recommends that everyone onboard work together to have a good handle on situational awareness, which is a 50-cent word way of describing a boat operator and his guests understanding what is happening around them, and within their own boat. It means considering all the other traffic, the weather and even looking around from obstructions in the water like deadheads. Everyone is part of the team to make sure the vessel is operated safely.

Unfortunately, especially during beautiful weather like we experienced this past week, people get tunnel vision. They don’t look past a 180-degree &uot;bubble&uot; around their vessel. Unfortunately this approach doesn’t provide true situational awareness as overtaking vessels may place the vessel being overtaken in a difficult situation. With proper warning, and awareness accidents may be avoided.

One way to ensure situational awareness by everyone aboard is to set an expectation before the vessel’s engine is ever started. The vessel’s operator should tell his or her guest up front. If you see something dangerous, or see another vessel placing are vessel in a potentially difficult situation….let the operator know.

In addition to asking everyone aboard to give as early warning as possible, a second pillar or TCT should be reinforced. That pillar is clear communications. As the District Seven web site reinforces, &uot;Clearly and accurately sending and acknowledging information, instructions and commands and providing useful feedback.&uot;

How does this apply to a recreational boater? Simple. If you see a problem developing, let the operator know as clearly and simply as possible. Make sure he or she acknowledges your information.

Next week we’ll continue or TCT discussions by looking at decision making, assertiveness, adapability and flexibility. Until next week: Boat Safe and Boat Smart!

By LCDR Joe DiRenzo III is a resident of Suffolk and a regular columnist for the News-Herald.