From The Boathouse: Advice about holiday lights


This week is Thanksgiving then the notorious Black Friday sales, and all I can think about are the upcoming boat parades in Orange County's three harbors, which I mentioned in last week's column.

What really excites me are the creative styles, methods and displays that the boaters spend countless hours on to decorate their watercrafts. I mention watercraft in lieu of boat because people will be on the water in vessels as small as a kayak to big-boy toys as large as a multi-million-dollar mega-yacht.

The holiday boat parades begin in two weeks, so as you plan the decorations, remember to keep safety in the forefront of your mind, with the utmost importance being that the skipper must be able to see.

A high percentage of the collisions or near misses I have witnessed are due to two primary things: skippers' lack of visibility all around the vessel and the skipper simply not paying attention to the duties at hand. Should the skipper's view be limited, have someone be a lookout to watch the blind areas. On some larger boats I skipper at times, I have had a few lookouts helping me avoid any problem situations.

Over the years, I have seen some very hazardously decorated boats, and on a couple of occasions, I have been zapped touching the metal railings from a wet extension cord grounding there. All of the exterior electrical cords should be for use outdoors with all the connections wrapped with electrical tape to prevent grounding. You will experience dew point during the parades and, in some years, it has rained, so plan ahead now to prevent electrical hazards.

The decorations cannot obstruct or prevent the deployment of any safety devices aboard your vessel, including ring buoys, life rafts, life jackets and fire extinguishers. For example, do not wrap a string of lights around your throwable ring buoy, making that lifesaving device useless if someone falls overboard.

Furthermore, the decorations cannot interfere with the vessel's navigational lights. An easy solution is to enhance your navigational lights by putting red light bulbs in by the port light and green light bulbs in by the starboard light. Technically, unless you are in a sanctioned parade route, it is not proper to display your Christmas lights if the lights distract from the navigational lights. However, the Harbor Patrol and the Coast Guard are using their discretion in enforcing this regulation during December, so cruise safely.

An important and potential legal tip is that you cannot have any very bright lights, spotlights or laser lights that interfere with another skipper's vision or strike an aircraft. Let me briefly explain: Everyone knows that shining a bright spotlight in the face of another skipper will cause that skipper to lose night vision, and thus, he or she will be unable to see where to steer. This practice is illegal in the law of the sea per the Coast Guard and stupid for anyone to do. Also, think where you are shining your spotlights shoreside as to not affect drivers and others.

Laser lights have become very popular, and I think they look great shining into the sky with the various displays. However, lasers shining into an aircraft pilot's eyes will temporary or permanently cause blindness, and the Federal Aviation Administration has determined that it is a crime — good call.

Be smart with your lights that shine outward, and explain to your guests the rules as they are usually the ones with the spotlight in hand.

In an upcoming column, I will have tips for skippering in the parade and parade etiquette.

Tip of the week is to join me for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Holiday Parade of Lights in the city of Rolling Hills Estates Dec. 1. Once again, I will be co-hosting the parade with announcing-veteran Michelle Swanson for the live TV broadcast airing on Cox Communications. Now, I know that I am co-hosting a landlubber's parade and not a boat parade, however, usually there is a boat being towed in the parade that I can announce.

Our huge broadcast trailer will be set up in front of the Peninsula Center Library, and there are numerous speakers lining the street for the crowd to hear us announce each parade participant. Plus, you might just be on TV when the cameras pan the crowds.

"We are anticipating over 6,000 spectators watching the parade this year," said City Community Services Director Andy Clark. "There are over a couple of hundred parade entries registered for Saturday night and numerous marching bands to entertain the crowd."

So, if you are in the South Bay at 6 p.m., then swing by Silver Spur Road. The parade finishes after traveling through the Promenade on the Peninsula shopping mall between 7:30 and 8 p.m. This is a marvelous family event, and please remember to dress warm.

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 at noon Saturdays and replayed at 10 a.m. Sundays.

Safe Voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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