From the Boathouse: Give water taxis another try, but do it right


I am pleased that the discussion about water taxis in Newport Harbor has bubbled up to the surface again.

Yes, taxis have failed in the past because the logistics and paying ridership were not well thought out. Additionally, the project was privately funded without the city or any transportation agency subsidies. This is one adventure that has to be a public and private venture.

First, it was a little worrisome when the City Council tried to dictate the boat's power source from the dais and not from reality. It is good to try to be so-called green, but requiring the taxis to be only electric-powered is very shortsighted to the needs of the project and doesn't take into account the advancements in marine engines.

Luckily, the council voted to accept proposals that would use vessels powered by all means of propulsion, whether electric, diesel-electric, petroleum or steam. The new tier diesel engines are amazing with their very low emissions and ability to maintain needed power.

However, I expect at least two proposals from local electric boat companies; Duffy Electric Boat Co. and Lear Electric Boats can both demonstrate the all-electric models.

The proposals should concentrate on the boat designs to meet and satisfy the needs and expectations of riders. Furthermore, the taxis have to operate in all weather conditions with an all-enclosed passenger cabin for a dry, clean ride.

Another essential design element is passenger loading that includes side loading and bow loading. However, let's not forget the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for those needing an extra hand.

The taxis' docking areas need to be reexamined for safety and practicality for public use. The crew will need to wipe hand railings, especially after dew point, and assist passengers up and down the gangways during low tides. Docks must be clean and easy to navigate for women dressed up for dinner and wearing high heels.

A very hot topic that needs to be discussed is increasing the speed limit in the harbor for water taxis. The boat design specifications can be tailored to require low wake hulls, which would allow a taxi to operate faster than the current speed limit.

Newport Harbor is miles long from end to end and includes eight islands, three peninsulas and the Back Bay area. The operating distances and speed limit are two factors that can hinder timely deliveries or pickups, thus hurting ridership. The taxis have to be as fast or faster than a car. I envision the majority of riders will want to go from a shore location to another shore location versus boat to shore.

Parking? Where are people going to park to use a water taxi? A percentage of riders will be travelers from their offshore boat to shore, locals who live within walking distance of a taxi dock and the stray guest who does not have a car. I would like to drive to the harbor and park my car to ride the taxi to a location.

Let's see the water taxi idea continue, but everyone needs to think outside the box if the vessel design and daily operations are going to attract riders.

Tip of the week is an email from a loyal reader who wanted to ask how the saying "batten down the hatches" originated in sailing history. I always batten down the hatches when my wife comes home while I am lounging on the couch and not finishing my honey-do list.

A few centuries ago, really a long time ago onboard wooden ships, canvas was used to cover openings like cargo holds and hatches to keep water from entering and flooding the holds, especially during a storm or large seas. Those days, the hatches did not have water-tight hatches made of fiberglass or metal. Instead large canvas covers were used to seal the top of the cargo holds.

So sailors would use wooden strips called battens around the edges of the holds to secure the canvas in place. Thus, the command to batten down the hatches was heard across the decks as a storm approached or large swells were building.

Today, boaters still batten down the hatches with fabric covers to protect dinghies, deck gear and other items on a boat, and not just for storms but for protection from the sun. Also, the battens have been replaced with draw strings, snaps and zippers.

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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