Recreational Boating Safety – News and Views

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
Many of us live on or near the water, in particular, the Gulf of Mexico and the different bays such as Galveston East Bay, Galveston West Bay, Trinity Bay, and surrounding waters. Many of us have boats and can be found on the water quite a bit, and we find it in our interest to keep up with what is going on in our area out on the water.

The Station Galveston Flotilla of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary operates out of the USCG Station Galveston base on Galveston Island. They provide assistance to the Coast Guard by providing maritime observation patrols in Galveston Bay; by providing recreational boating vessel safety checks; and by working alongside Coast Guard members in maritime accident investigation, small boat training, watch standing, and procurement.

Sinking boats, collisions, and other such news are part of our interests, as these are “there but for the grace of God go I” situations. We learn from others’ mistakes. This column will discuss a few news items as well as give a few pointers on how you can keep up with the news.

Shameless Promotion
As for a little news of personal nature, I have been serving as the Vice Flotilla Commander for the Galveston Station Flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for the past two years. At our past meeting I was elected to the Flotilla Commander position for 2020. Also, I have received the Auxiliary Recreational Boating Safety (RBS) Device Award, which recognizes strong support of the RBS program over a two year period. The award is based upon points awarded for several categories, including Public Education, Public Affairs, Vessel Safety Checks, and RBS Program Visitation (aka Marine Dealer Visits). The award requires 120 points per year for two consecutive years for a total of 240 hours for prescribed missions. The award allows me to wear a device that recognizes my contribution on my uniform. It is apparently a rare award, so that makes it special to me. That said, my purpose in promoting Recreational Boating Safety is and has always been to help make sure my friends, neighbors, and fellow boaters have the knowledge they need to make it back home safely from a trip on the water.

Kemah Bridge News
If you have made the trip down Highway 146 through Kemah, then you are well aware that the Kemah Bridge is undergoing construction of additional lanes. This construction makes quite a bit of a traffic bottleneck, and can easily add 30 minutes to your trip. Well, that bottleneck also occurs below the bridge, as the normal two-span opening for boat traffic is reduced to one span only. In addition, traffic through that one span is directional, and is governed by a traffic light on either side of the bridge. At first the traffic light changed from inbound to outbound or outbound to inbound every 30 minutes, and that has been the way it was for nearly a year now. That 30 minute wait has resulted in some massive traffic jams on the water. When that occurs in your car, you just sit there, but in a boat you constantly fight the water currents and the wind currents to remain in place waiting for the light to turn green. We have had flagger boats on either side of the bridge during daylight hours to help control traffic. They display a sign that says “Go” on one side and “Stop” on the other to augment the traffic signals. Recently the flaggers have begun to allow traffic to move through against the light in certain circumstances, such as allowing outbound traffic whenever there is no inbound traffic in sight. This is similar to the situation where a police officer directs heavy traffic at an intersection and motions you through a signal that is red. He has the authority to override the signal indication. That is the way it is with the flaggers. So, if you find you are looking at a red stop light at the bridge, but the flagger is displaying a green Go sign, you may safely proceed through the bridge span against the light. Additionally, the traffic light pattern changes every 15 minutes, and that appears to help cut down on boat traffic jams.

Family Rescued during Sailing Regatta
A regatta is a boat race. Powerboat regattas generally follow an oval pattern, while sailboat regattas generally follow a triangular pattern. We have many sailboat regattas in our area during the year, including our own Bolivar Rig Run, which follows a triangular pattern around our near rig off Crystal Beach. Recently a sailboat sailing in the Harvest Moon Regatta, a 150-nautical mile race from the Galveston Pleasure Pier to Port Aransas, began taking on water near Freeport and called the Coast Guard for assistance. A Coast Guard Station Freeport response boat rescued four adults and three children from the Rogue Flyer, a 30-foot sailing vessel that lost its rudder and was unable to maneuver. Station Freeport launched a Response Boat-Medium crew to the scene and they towed the vessel to Bridge Bait Marina. At the time they lost their rudder they were in first place.

Sailboat Sinks during Sailing Regatta
In the second case involving a sailboat participating in the Harvest Moon Regatta, the passengers on another vessel were not as lucky as those aboard the Rogue Flyer. The Coast Guard received a report of a 46-foot sailboat with a family of six along with a dog and cat aboard taking on water approximately five miles south of Freeport. A Station Freeport boat crew arrived and rescued the family and their pets from the vessel. While towing the vessel back to Freeport, the flooding became progressive and the vessel sank. The vessel rests in approximately 30 feet of water two miles south of the Freeport jetty entrance. On a side note, the family aboard this vessel was participating in the regatta at the suggestion of a friend. The family had recently sold everything their home and cars, bought the sailboat, and had intended to live on the boat and sail it around the world. Everything they owned was aboard the sailboat when it went down.

Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue
A Coast Guard Air Station Houston MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew lowered a dewatering pump to a 46-foot vessel after it began taking on water approximately a quarter mile from the mouth of the San Bernard River near Freeport on October 10. The helicopter crew then hoisted the vessel operator aboard after the boat ran aground. The owner is arranging salvage.

Keeping Up with the News
There are several different ways to keep up with local and world-wide boating news. The Coast Guard has several Facebook pages dedicated to releasing news regarding their operations. Some of the pages I follow include U.S. Coast Guard Station Galveston, where I get to see pictures and news regarding the people I work with on a daily basis; U.S. Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston, where I do much of my training, and the station that carries our radio watch most of the time when we are out on patrol; Salt Strong Fishing, which also contains news all along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Florida to South Texas; and the email newsletter gCaptain. gCaptain is a good way to keep up with the big boys, as I call the large commercial ships we recreational boaters dodge on our way to and from the jetties. There are tons of pages on Facebook that you can follow for more specific information on your areas of interest.

Keeping up with boating news can help us stay safer on the water, and one of this column’s purposes is to keep you informed of changes in regulations and best boating practices. Ultimately it is each boat captain’s responsibility to keep informed.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US 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!


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One Response to “Recreational Boating Safety – News and Views”

  1. Don says:

    Bob: Congratulations on the Promotion to Flotilla Commander! I’ll email you in February for my Vessel Safety Check(s).

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