From the Boathouse: Prepare for the holiday boating season


We have wonderful Christmas boat parades — cruising in harbors, lakes and rivers — to look forward to next month, and yes, boats being towed on trailers down a few main streets across the country.

I hope boaters have started to plan or maybe already begun decorating their vessels for this festive time of the year. I say vessels because I have seen all types of floating crafts, from surfboards, outriggers, canoes and kayaks to things that you'd never expect to be able to float — not to mention aqua cars in and around the parade routes.

So I have some tips for being a skipper in a parade and a safety tip for navigational lights. The parades are closing in fast on my radar, so do not procrastinate, and keep safety in mind for the sake of your guests, other boaters and yourself.

If you are going to skipper in a boat parade, I recommend that you casually cruise the boat parade's route at night to familiarize yourself with the course and turns. At night your visibility is decreased and your daytime landmarks may not be visible.

Keep in mind a few things you need to do and look for when you are cruising the route as practice. First, observe the distances between any moorings or offshore objects to the shoreline, and how you can safely navigate between them. You need to note any unlit floating markers and all the lit channel markers' locations along the course. Also, find a spot where you can safely drop out of the parade if your boat starts to have mechanical problems or a guest becomes seasick from the wakes.

Can you stop your boat and hold position anywhere along the route? Close-quarter maneuvering is the name of the game when skippering in a parade, and remember to constantly look behind you before you turn. Lastly, speed kills, so you want to cruise slowly and safely, and always obey the directions from parade control or the Harbor Patrol.

On a technical note, most people do not know that unless you are actually participating in a sanctioned parade, it is not proper to display any external lights, such as Christmas lights, that distract from the navigational lights. The Harbor Patrol and Coast Guard are using their discretion in enforcing this regulation during December, so cruise safely.

Additionally, since you will be cruising at night, the decorations cannot interfere with the vessel's normal navigational lights. Never install any extraneous lights, especially spotlights that shine into another skipper's eyes. The more seasoned boaters enhance their navigational lights by using red bulbs by the port light and green bulbs by the starboard light.

Boating safety regulations require that none of the decorations obstruct or prevent the deployment of any required safety devices aboard your vessel, including ring buoys, life rafts, life jackets and fire extinguishers. Decorate smart and think safety, and I will have more next week. And send me your decorating tips for my column.

Tip of the week is an important safety note that I cannot emphasize enough. It is lobster season now and for several more months, so lobster buoys are floating in the Pacific Ocean. I know of an experienced recreational boater who tangled one of his props while leaving a harbor last weekend. He forgot about the buoys and cut the corner; he was not keeping a good lookout for floating hazards.

Outside most of Southern California's harbor jetty entrances are lobster cages with marker buoys floating on the surface. Also, within a couple of miles along the coastline are hundreds of floating lobster marker buoys.

If entering or leaving a harbor this time of year, navigate a straight course between the offshore entrance buoy and the mouth of the harbor, and do not cut the corners, especially at dark.

After a storm or heavy seas, pay closer attention to the locations of the floats, since they can move directly in front of harbor entrances. As always, keep a good lookout. It will be hard to see the floats on your radar.

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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