From the Boathouse: The truth about ropes and lines


The weather and sea conditions are looking very favorable for boating this weekend, with the air temperatures rising up to the low 70s on Friday and dipping slightly through the weekend to the low 60s by Sunday. However, we will have mostly sunny skies with patchy fog in the mornings.

The sea conditions are looking great for boaters to venture into the Pacific Ocean, and remember, it is whale-watching season, so keep a sharp lookout for the mammals. The swells are expected to be one to two feet from the west, with a negligible one-foot south. Not good news for rag-boaters this weekend are the very light winds that are predicted, which will create only one-foot wind waves. The water temperatures will be in the mid-50s, so bundle up with layered clothing and extra blankets.

On another note, it is time once again for me to respond to a couple of email questions from you readers.

The first email questions whether it is a rope or line on a boat. I hope your neck hair just rose as I mentioned ropes. Please delete "ropes" from your vocabulary and insert "lines." There are a few specific "ropes" on a boat, such as the bell rope, but for the most part, all are lines. The lines have specific names, like bow lines, stern lines and spring lines, to name a few. We do have standing or stationary rigging as well as running rigging for sailboats, plus sheet lines for adjusting the sails. If in doubt, call it a line, not a rope.

Second question: Is it a fender or a bumper? The hanging protective device, whether a flat cushion, ball or blowup tube that hangs off the side a boat for protection between the boat and dock is a fender. A bumper is a piece of rudder, plastic or similar material that is fixed or mounted on the dock or the boat's hull. So, now you know.

Tip of the week is that the seas may be flat this weekend, but we are in the middle of our storm season, so keep an eye on the weather before you leave the dock. The ocean's swell intervals are very important to monitor, especially if they are decreasing to single digits. The single-digit intervals are caused by strong winds that can kick up in the afternoons. The short intervals mean that the swell faces will steepen, which will cause your boat to fall off the peaks and pound into the troughs. Also, let's not forget that on top of the swell heights, you have to add in wind waves from the strong gusts that will be spraying water over your bow.

Other concerns with the big, steep swells are that you will have to slow your speed way down, and your overall distance will increase from going up and down over the swells' sine waves. You may still pound off the tops even at the slower speed, and now, fuel might become an issue for you to go the extra distance of up and down versus more of a horizontal line.

There have been many times when I've been 1,000 nautical miles off any coast or between two distant harbors with no choice but to keep underway and making way, as it is technically called. A thought that is always in the back of my mind is, what will happen if I lose an engine, or both engines, in these conditions?

I wonder if a mechanical failure will cause the yacht to flounder dangerously in the swell's trough, with a high probability of capsizing or swamping from the conditions. I also note how far away the nearest safe harbor is while underway. However, you will learn how difficult it is to perform an engine-room check in seas that make walking almost impossible, and in some boats, water can enter through the side fuel vents into the fuel tanks. In that case, you sometimes have to bleed the fuel water separator while underway.

Locally, boaters need to use good judgment, even if you are just cruising from the mainland to Catalina Island. I have seen and heard many times of boaters trying to cross the San Pedro Channel only to feel the wrath of Mother Nature. Stay boat-safe and boat-smart, and always keep a watch on the bridge, because that might be me crossing your bow.

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 live coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replays throughout the weekend. See times at

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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