Recreational Boating Safety – Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08

We all hope that we never have to call the Coast Guard for help. In previous columns I have discussed different methods of calling for help, and what information you need to give the Coast Guard when you do call. First, you must know your latitude and longitude. There are several ways of determining that information, such as by the GPS on your boat, by using the Coast Guard app on your phone, and by using your GPS on your radio.

Flotilla 081-06-08 is based at Coast Guard Station Galveston. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the US Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. For more information, please visit

You need to relate the number of persons aboard, the nature of your distress, and provide a description of your vessel. It would be nice if you could just tell the Coast Guard “I am at Pepper Grove 3 Reef” and have the Coast Guard know where that is, but the fact of the matter is that the Coast Guard watchstanders and coxswains only know two points in Galveston East Bay by name: Smith Point and Hanna Reef. We are trying to get that changed.

My flotilla has been tasked with providing the watchstanders with a list of waypoints for all of the area bays along with their latitude and longitudes. This will help in locating persons who do not know their latitude and longitude, but do know what their location is using a named waypoint such as Elm Grove, Siever’s Cut, etc. Since I am providing the waypoint locations for Galveston East Bay, I will share the locations in this column. I recommend using a combination of waypoint names along with the latitude and longitude when reporting your position. That way if there is a misunderstanding of the actual latitude and longitude, the named waypoint could help clarify your location.

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I chose a variety of points to give to the watchstanders. The list is laid out such that the first waypoint is at the southern entrance to East Bay, and the chart follows the south shoreline to Mussel Point, and then follows the north shoreline to Smith Point, which is the northern entrance to East Bay. In essence, the latitudes in the chart describe a counterclockwise trip through the bay. There are many named reefs in East Bay, so I only selected a relatively few more widely known waypoints used by fishermen. Hanna Reef is a very large reef, about 10 miles long, so you can see that the latitude and longitude given in the chart for Hanna Reef is of limited value, and would just serve as a place to begin a search pattern.

It is very frustrating for the Coast Guard watchstanders to actually make contact with a vessel in distress and be unable to ascertain that vessel’s location. If you use a marine radio to contact the Coast Guard, they can determine your position using triangulation of your radio signal. However, if you use a cell phone to make your emergency call, they have no way to triangulate your position. Our hope is that by providing waypoints along with their coordinates we can assist the watchstanders in determining your location in an emergency. Whenever we formalize the list of waypoints to be used by the watchstanders, I will publish it in this column. Don’t forget that by downloading the Coast Guard app onto your smart phone you have access to your GPS coordinates as long as you have cell phone service.

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 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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