Recreational Boating Safety – The Vessel Safety Check (VSC) Part 7: Sound Producing Devices and Their Use

Boating-1010-0By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08
USCG Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08 is based at Coast Guard Station Galveston. The Auxiliary’s vessel examiners perform safety checks on all types of recreational boats. In this discussion of the Vessel Safety Check (VSC), we will discuss the requirements for sound producing devices and their use. Sound signals are required to be made under certain circumstances. Meeting, crossing, overtaking situations, and periods of reduced visibility all require sound signals to be used. Vessels of less than 39.4 feet are required to carry an efficient sound signaling device, such as a whistle, horn, or other means, and to use that device to signal their intentions or position in periods of reduced visibility (mouth horns or whistles are acceptable). For personal water craft, a whistle attached to the operator’s life jacket meets the requirement and provides a means to signal should the operator be separated from the personal watercraft.

Recreational Boating Safety –Sound Producing Devices

One of the best whistles on the market is the Fox 40, a whistle designed for referees. It is a heavy duty plastic pea-less whistle (the round cork ball found in old style whistles is called the pea), so it is not subject to drying out or otherwise becoming ineffective. I have found them at Wal-Mart, Academy, and even the Big Store at Crystal Beach. It can be found for around $5.00. Another popular sound producing device is the stadium air horn used as a noisemaker at football games. They are exceptionally loud and effective. Boating-1010-2If you have a manufacturer installed horn, be sure to test it each time you go out. Salt air is especially hard on horns.

Vessels 65.6 feet or more are required to carry on board a whistle (athletic whistles are not acceptable) or horn, and a bell. The bell must be in operating condition, with a minimum diameter of 7-7/8 inches, measured at the mouth.


Whistle and Horn Signals

Sound signals are composed of short and prolonged blasts and must be audible for at least one-half mile:

  • Short blast—about one second in duration
  • Prolonged blast—4-6 seconds in duration

Sound signals can communicate a change in direction to other boaters.

  • One prolonged blast tells other boaters “I am about to get underway.”
  • One short blast tells other boaters “I intend to pass you on my port (left) side.”
  • Two short blasts tell other boaters “I intend to pass you on my starboard (right) side.”
  • Three short blasts tell other boaters, “I am operating astern propulsion.” For some vessels, this tells other boaters, “I am backing up.”

Sound signals let other boaters know where you are located during periods of restricted visibility, such as extreme fog. If you hear the fog signal of a vessel you cannot see, slow to a minimum speed until you are sure there is not a risk of collision.

  • One prolonged blast at intervals of not more than two minutes is the signal used by power-driven vessels when underway.
  • One prolonged blast plus two short blasts at intervals of not more than two minutes is the signal used by sailing vessels.

Sound signals are used to warn other boaters or alert them to danger.

  • One prolonged blast is also a warning signal (for example, used when coming around a blind bend).
  • Five (or more) short, rapid blasts are used to signal danger or to signal that you do not understand or you disagree with the other boater’s intentions.

Using Sound Signals When Encountering Other Vessels

Navigation rules include the use of sound signals to communicate with other boaters. The other vessel will sound the same signal if in agreement with the proposed maneuver.

TOOT (one short blast) tells other boaters "I intend to pass you on my port (left) side."  TOOT TOOT (two short blasts) tells other boaters "I intend to pass you on my starboard (right) side."

TOOT (one short blast) tells other boaters “I intend to pass you on my port (left) side.” TOOT TOOT (two short blasts) tells other boaters “I intend to pass you on my starboard (right) side.”



Vessel Safety Check (VSC)

I performed one VSC this past week on a center console recreational fishing boat which is primarily used in Galveston East Bay. The boat was neat, clean, and met all requirements. The captain was very experienced and knowledgeable. His anchor had a chain rode and 100 feet of line, and he knew how to use it to hold position in extremely heavy seas. He had a marine radio and knew which channel he was required to monitor (Ch 16). He had nautical charts as well as a high-end GPS navigation system. My only recommendations to him were to download the U.S. Coast Guard app for his iPhone and to use it to file a float plan.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at www.uscgboating.org. Questions about the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at [email protected] I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!

[10-9-2017]

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