The summer boating season is almost here. That's when harbors are filled with hundreds of kids participating in sailing classesfrom first-time white-knuckled beginners to those hoping one day to bring home the America's Cup.
Keep in mind that most states have laws about mandatory wearing of lifejackets for children. California's boating laws requires anyone 11 years of age or younger must always wear an USCG-approved lifejacket when on a boat that is 26 feet long or less, unless the child is tethered to the boat or when in an enclosed cabin while the vessel is under way.
However, the most important trait that instructors should instill to their students is good seamanship skills and this includes courtesy on the waterways. Too often, you hear the beginner say that sailboats always have the right of way so "look out for me!" I have seen coaches instill in racers to barge their way across the congested waterways without signaling intentions to other boaters. This leads to bad vibes between the sailing and power boaters similar to snowskiers and snowboarders.
All boaters should learn the proper navigational rules that will prevent many conflicts on the water, which primarily are the result of one or both skippers not following the rules or pushing the rules to an unsafe level, especially in a confined harbor. Vessels under sail do not always have the right of way and the students need to learn this for their safety.
You will notice that most structured sailing classes will try to keep their sailors to a designated area in the harbor. Likewise, the sailing races' turning buoys will be set off the shore so that there is ample sea room for other boats to cruise by without going through the middle of the course. Other boaters should try to be courteous to avoid the classes or races, and this can be challenging at times in narrow channels or on very busy boating days.
Recreational sailors can help create an enjoyable and safe adventure by tacking early to avoid cutting off another boat, and boaters can wave thanks to someone who changes course. Remember, the rules of the road specify that a boater must make their intentions known to other boaters. It might be practicable for a sailboat to give whistle signals, though everyone should learn the basic whistle signals, especially three short blasts, five short blasts, and one prolonged blast that commercial boats will use.
The captains of commercial vessels and the Balboa Island Ferry boats will use the whistle signals to convey a message to another boat of any size. A short blast is a signal that lasts about a second, and a prolonged blast signal will be for 4 to 6 seconds with 1 minute in between signals. Three short blasts signify that the vessels screws are in reverse, and used primarily for two messages: 1) I am backing down to let you go in front, so give a wave of thanks in lieu of the one-finger salute; 2) I am backing out of my slip. The five short blasts is the danger signal that means I do not understand your intentions or there is a danger of collision. You will hear ships give this signal often to recreational boaters in commercial harbors. When you hear five short blasts, then everyone needs to assist in correcting the situation for safe navigation. Finally, the prolonged blast is what you usually hear from larger vessels leaving their slips. This signal signifies that I cannot see completely so I am giving a signal to see if anyone else responds with a signal, for example, nearing a blind bend in a channel or, as stated, departing a dock.
I hope everyone has an opportunity to go sailing this summer and that their experience is enjoyable.