Whitehead: Capt. Mike's back at the helm


I am pleased to be arriving back to my home berth with my column after a couple years' absence from the Daily Pilot while I was writing for a neighboring newspaper.

The year was 2001 when I began writing my nautical column for the Daily Pilot newspaper, and it will be nice again to reach those who live in Costa Mesa again. In addition, my column has expanded into the Huntington Beach Independent and the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot newspapers where numerous boaters live who use our local harbors and the Pacific Ocean.

Those who may not be familiar with my column, let me start by saying welcome aboard, and keep in mind that this is not a sports column. I would classify it more of a nautical life style with boating as the main theme. I will be mentioning local events, legislative issues, water quality, safety, and anything related to boating, which is America's No. 1 family recreational activity.

While on the topic of local events, the American Legion Post 291 Yacht Club's annual Old Glory Boat Parade is just over the horizon, scheduled for the Fourth of July. The parade begins at 1 p.m. This year's theme is "It Stands for Freedom," and the parade cruises Newport Harbor with nearly 100 decorated boats.

So, boat owners wanting to sign-up for the parade or anyone seeking more information can go to the Legion's website at AL291.com.

Tip of the week is my annual Flag Day reminder explaining the proper etiquette for displaying the American or the U.S. Ensign flags aboard a boat.

Remember that aboard a vessel, one refers to the "Old Glory" as the U.S. Ensign, and the popular U.S. boating flag you see with the 13 stars encircling the fouled anchor is called the U.S. Yacht Ensign.

The U.S. Ensign is the flag that all U.S. boats, yachts and ships can display, and the Yacht Ensign can be displayed in lieu of the U.S. Ensign on yachts only while in U.S. waters. However, members of the United States Power Squadron do have a choice of hoisting their USPS Ensign in lieu of either flag.

Now, here comes the most important part of this column for you to remember. Proper etiquette dictates that "colors are made" at 0800 (8 a.m.) and flown only until sunset. However, you can fly colors after dark or before sunrise if you are entering or leaving port.

The confusion is that a flag on land must be lighted when flown after dark, and many believe this relates to flags on vessels, which it does not. Also, to shine a light on a yacht's flag after dark is impractical and when underway can interfere with navigational lights or hamper the crew's night vision.

All boats when made fast at anchor or dock should fly the Ensign from their stern staff when someone is onboard. When underway, powerboats cruising in inland waters or in the ocean when passing another boat can continue flying from the stern staff unless outfitted with a mast and gaff. In that case, relocate the flag to the gaff.

Sport fishers, when fishing, can move the flag to a halyard if there is a chance of damaging the flag or interfering with the activities.

Sailboats should fly the Ensign from the stern staff when made fast, under power, and those following the English practice. Remember, no Ensign should be displayed while racing, and I see this foul every Thursday evening during the Beer Can races in the harbor.

It is safe to fly the Ensign from the stern in today's modern practices, but tradition states when under sail power to fly the Ensign 1/3 down the leech of the aftermost sail, usually the leech of the main as in Marconi rigs. If the sailboat's aft sail is gaffed then move the Ensign all the way up the leech to just below the gaff.

Always remember to hoist the U.S. flag first and lower after all other flags. While I have briefly explained yachting flag etiquette, keep in mind that is always more to the story such as the flag etiquette for International cruising. If you need flags then stop by a marine retail store, or I use Nikki's Flag Shop on Old Newport Boulevard. Be sure to tell Gil that I sent you.

And don't forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead's Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon (PST) and replayed at 10 a.m. on Sunday. You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iPod Touch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at http://www.BoathouseTV.com.

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot.

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