From the Boathouse: A few superstitions on the water


Halloween brought out the ghosts and goblins knocking on my door for a treat. When I see the trick-or-treaters prowling the neighborhood, I like to sit back and think of all the crazy boating and fishing superstitions that sailors have believed through the ages.

Many if not most superstitions were invented and believed by sailors who were trying to explain something that occurred during their voyage, such as a weather-related incident like St. Elmo's fire. So I thought you might enjoy some sailor superstitions — and remember, no bananas aboard.

How about no whistling on board a boat, since you might whistle up a storm? I think we should whistle since we need the rain in California and the southwest. And did you know that sailors think that black sea bags are bad luck, hence the choice of white or off-white?

Another superstitution: The ship's bell will ring when the vessel crashes. This will, of course, happen if the boat crashes into something while underway, because the momentum will carry the clapper forward to strike the bell a few times. And this: You will have bad luck if you kill a seabird because seabirds carry the souls of lost or dead seamen, yet seeing a seabird is good luck.

Lastly, sailors seeing dolphins playing around the boat while underway is good luck, but a shark signifies that death is near for one of the crewmen.

If you happen to have a superstition of your own, email it to me for use in a future column.

Tip of the week is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will stop producing nautical paper charts in April. The charts are the guides and planning tools for boaters across the nation, but times are changing and so is the delivery method of the charts to the maritime community, be it commercial or recreational.

My favorite paper charting tools are the regional chart books and waterproof charts sold by companies like Maptech. I travel long distances up and down the Pacific Coast while crossing the charting regions or zones, and I like having a binder of that area's charts.

This really helps to keep the charts in order when smashing through rough seas, and it is much easier to carry a flat binder versus lugging around rolled-up charts in a plastic tube on my voyages.

I think the main reasons the NOAA is discontinuing printing paper charts are cost savings and the availability of digital technology. The sale of paper charts must have decreased over the years because of the advancement of the maritime navigational software in your GPS unit, charting software on your laptop or tablet and apps now available on your smartphone. The 21st century is introducing new innovations in the marine environment, and charting is advancing as well toward new and innovative approaches.

I always have a caveat for boaters who are using only electronic charting and navigation. Boaters should always carry paper charts to use when — not if — the electronic navigation fails or the cellular or Internet signal cuts out.

You ask: If I am to carry paper charts, then how can I get them after April?

Marine and nautical bookstores will still be able to print on demand the more than 1,000 charts, and they will include the most recent corrections. Additionally, boaters can print their charts at home from the NOAA's website; I printed a full-size chart on letter-size paper as a test.

Granted, you may need a magnifying glass to read the detail, yet I could still make compass headings in a pinch if my electronics failed.

The website does have the option to print to a plotter for full-size charts, but I doubt most boaters have easy access to a plotter. NOAA will continue to provide and update its raster and electronic and online charts.

Boating navigational tools are evolving and I think they will enhance and create safer navigation for the recreational boater. How many boaters do you know who cannot read a paper chart anyway but could read a navigational app on their iPhone?

Cruise over to to see all the products and access the charting information. Try the new PDF nautical charts selection under "Nautical Charts & Products." It's free for now.

Please be boat smart and boat safe. Lastly, please boat responsibly and look behind you before you turn the wheel at the helm.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting live coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network. See times at, and

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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