“There are a couple of shoals in the bay — one at the south end of Shelter Island — that people run aground on,” says Jim Holmberg, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Public Education Officer. A shoal is a sandbank that creates a shallow area. Another danger zone for watercraft in the bay is an area of mudflats just south of the Coronado Bridge.
On behalf of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Holmberg will teach a nine-week “Boating Skills and Seamanship” course beginning Monday, July 7. Even though the “rules of the sea” are consistent throughout the country, sailors must learn the particulars of each area they encounter. For example, when entering the Oceanside Harbor, without a local chart a seafarer might infer from the buoys marking the area that the entrance splits into two channels. In fact, one of the channels is a restricted area leading to the Del Mar Basin — for authorized government vessels only. Nearly all of the information a mariner needs can be found in charts provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One of the topics Holmberg covers in the course is collision regulation. “Collision regulation is the navigation rule that all boats are supposed to follow about how not to hit each other,” says Holmberg. “For powerboats, the boat that is off your starboard [right] side facing forward is the ‘stand-on vessel’ — that boat is to maintain course and direction. The other boat is called the ‘give-way vessel.’”
In the San Diego Bay, small boats must often navigate around much larger cargo, Navy, and cruise ships. “The boat that is least maneuverable is going to be the stand-on vessel to the boat that’s most maneuverable,” Holmberg explains. A carrier transporting cars from Japan leaves the bay every weekend. “It’s about the size of an aircraft carrier, like a big yellow building that goes through the bay.” When it exits, Holmberg says, “It will blast its horn to make sure everyone stays out of its way.”
A mistake Holmberg has seen many novice sailboaters make is to run through the channel when a Navy or other big vessel is going through. “They don’t realize that rule number nine [of the United States Coast Guard Navigation Rules] supersedes that particular rule of sailboats over powerboats.” Which means that even though a large vessel is technically a powerboat, it is actually less maneuverable than a smaller sailboat and therefore has the right to stand on — the sailboat must give way.
Because of the high volume of traffic in the bay, the Coast Guard conducts frequent boat inspections, making sure they are in compliance with safety regulations. “You need a lifejacket of proper size for everybody on board,” says Holmberg. “You can’t put a big adult one on a little five-year-old, because if the five-year-old falls in the water, that lifejacket’s just going to pop off of him. You need to have flares on the vessel, a fire extinguisher, and, especially if you go off shore at all, you need a radio and a compass.”
According to Holmberg, who owns a 35-foot Erickson sailboat, the law does not require sailors to carry a radio and compass, though he counts them among his necessities. “The radio is the only way you’re able to communicate with anybody once you go out to the ocean — cell phones don’t work that far out.” Commercial vessels are required to have VHF (very high frequency) radios, and all ships with radios monitor channel 16, the “911” of the ocean. Channel 16 is known as the hailing channel and is only to be used for distress and safety calls.
All boats have identifying lights called “running lights.” “Green and red at the bow — green’s on the starboard, red’s on the port — and a white stern light,” Holmberg explains. “So when you’re out there and all you’re able to see are little lights bobbing in the water, it gives you an indication of what kind of boat and what direction it’s traveling in. If it has a masthead light, people can know that that boat is under power, so it’s going to follow the rules of a powerboat.”
Boating Skills and Seamanship Course
Monday July 7 (nine-week course, Monday evenings)
7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
San Diego County Health Building
3851 Rosecrans Street
Cost: $25 fee for text, class free
Info: 619-299-6546 or www.nws.cgaux.org/visitors