Sunday, February 2, 2014

Understanding Marine Weather – Wind Chill


Just as there are persistent hot places around the world, there are persistent cold places. The cold air alone can be deadly but when the air is moving if feels much colder. The wind chill is the effect of the wind on people and animals. The wind chill temperature is based on:

the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold and is to give
you an approximation of how cold the air
feels on your body.

As the wind increases, it removes heat from the body, driving down skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. If the temperature is 0°F and the wind is blowing at 15 mph, the wind chill temperature is -19°F. At this level, exposed skin can freeze in just a few minutes.

The only effect wind chill has on inanimate objects, such as car radiators and water pipes, is to shorten the amount of time for the object to cool. The inanimate object will not cool below the actual air temperature. For example, if the temperature outside is -5°F and the wind chill temperature is -31°F, then your car’s radiator temperature will be no lower than the air temperature of -5°F.


The Wind Chill Chart

To determine the wind chill temperature:

  1. Find the value closest to your outside air temperature.
  2. Find the value that most closely represents your present wind speed.
  3. Your wind chill temperature is the value where this column and row meet.

Wind Chill and Your Safety

Q:    What is important about the wind chill besides feeling colder than the actual air
        temperature?

A:    The lower the wind chill temperature, the greater you are at risk for developing frost bite and/or
        hypothermia.  Frostbite occurs when your body tissue freezes. The most susceptible parts of the
        body are fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. Hypothermia occurs when body core
        temperature, normally around 98.6°F falls below 95°F.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bad Weather and Rough Water - Entering or Exiting Port

While operating your boat there will be times when you will need to either exit or enter a port in rough and challenging conditions. Although certain inlets and rivers have extreme conditions much more often than others, learning how rough weather affects the various harbors and entrances throughout your local area is necessary to operate safely. Knowing as much information as possible prior to entering a harbor, inlet, or river in rough weather will help guard against potential dangers or impending problems. In these cases local knowledge can make the difference between a safe passage or getting you and your crew in trouble. If you are operating in an area which is new or unfamiliar to you “local knowledge” can also be gained through the use of cruising guides or Coast Pilots found in many ship stores or online. Here are a few things you should be aware of before entering any of these areas:
  1. Watch where waves break. Know how far out into the channel, whether near jetties or shoals, or directly across the entrance the waves break.
  2. Pay close attention to how the entrance affects wave patterns. An entrance that has jetties may push waves back across an entrance where they combine with the original waves.
  3. Some entrances have an outer bar that breaks, and then additional breaks farther in. Others are susceptible to a large, heaving motion that creates a heavy surge as it hits rocks or structures.
  4. Know where the channel actually is. If shoaling has occurred, room to maneuver may be significantly reduced.
  5. Know the actual depths of the water. Account for any difference between actual and charted depth due to water stage, height of tide, recent rainfall, or atmospheric pressure effects.
When entering a harbor, inlet, or river you will need to pay special attention to the direction of the current and seas. The most challenging condition you can encounter is when the current opposes the seas when operating near an entrance. In this case the current will have the effect of shortening the wavelength, and increasing the wave height. This makes waves much more unstable and closer together. While heading into the oncoming seas, you will find that the current is coming from behind your vessel thus pushing your boat into the seas at a relatively higher speed. You can reduce this effect (which will also give more time to react between waves) by slowing your vessel, although the current is coming from behind you will still need to keep enough headway to ensure effective steering.

Do not to allow the current to push your boat into any large cresting waves or combined waves that are peaking together. When transiting an entrance, you will find that maneuvering room is often very limited. The only safe water may be found in the area that you just left. Be ready to back down and avoid the breaking crest of a wave. This situation can become critical in following seas with a head current. The waves will overtake your vessel at a higher rate and will break more often. The current will reduce your boat’s speed over the ground (SOG) which will expose your vessel to more waves. In this condition it is important to remain calm and not panic.

Remember that with all following seas, you need to stay on the back of the wave ahead. As these waves become unstable they tend to break more quickly, use extra caution to ensure that you do not go over the crest of the wave ahead. Concentrate both on the crest in front of you and the waves behind. You must keep a hand on the throttle and adjust your power continuously. In many entrances, there is not enough room to maneuver allowing you to take a breaking wave bow-on.

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Friday, January 31, 2014

There Are Opportunities Out There If You Have Your Captain’s License

If you want to be a captain, you are in luck. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there should be a fifteen percent growth in water vessel occupations within the next ten years. Where will the jobs be? They will most likely be within the tourism and transportation industries. As the economy and tourism recover and the government looks to create more green solutions for transportation, operators of water vessels will be in higher demand. That means those with a captain’s license or master captain’s license may be able to find work very easily in the near future.

In regard to tourism, as more and more people look to spend leisurely time out in the water, they will need a captain to lead them out. Water ferries and charter boats are a great way to sight-see and get a new perspective on an area. Charter fishing and deep sea fishing have become very popular outings as well. These opportunities can be very lucrative and don’t seem to be ending anytime soon especially with the popularity of some Discovery shows that promote the outdoors like Man vs. Wild and The Deadliest Catch. As tourism and charter fishing trips continue to grow, more charter boat captain jobs should be available.


The transportation industry is another avenue for those with a captain’s license to consider for employment. There will be new opportunities in the Hawaiian Islands as new cruise ships are planned to meet demand as well as in commercial shipping due to congestion on the railways. Moreover, ferries are seen as a low-cost green approach to handling commuter traffic and congestion. The upkeep and construction of bridges far exceed the costs of operating a ferry.

These are just some of the many opportunities available for those with a captain’s or master captain’s license. It should be exciting to see what the future holds.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

So You Want To Be A Captain? Where Can I Take My Captain’s License Exam?


After you completed the Mariners Learning System coursework, you will need to take our proctored exam in order to get your captain’s license, master license, etc. Mariners Learning System has USCG-approved testing facilities all over the county. Once you complete and pass the exam, you will receive a MLS Certificate of Completion. This Certificate of Completion is accepted as a substitute to taking the corresponding USCG exams. To find one of our Coast Guard approved locations and corresponding test dates, go here.

You can locate the state you reside or the one closest to you. You will know if we have a testing location in your state if it’s colored in blue. Remember that it’s important to register early. It will guarantee you a seat as spaces fill up quickly and registration closes within fourteen days of the exam. Those that are still listed within fourteen days mean that you can still register for that time. You will need your electronic confirmation form when you arrive for test day.


Besides the exam enrollment form, you will need your online final exam completion letters and USCG- recognized photo identification. Here is a list of those that are acceptable:

  • U.S. Military identification card
  • U.S. driver’s license
  • U.S. Passport
  • Official identification card issued by a State, or local government.
  • Official identification card issued by the Federal Government.
  • Law enforcement credential, with photograph of the applicant, issued by Federal, State or local government
  • Merchant Marine Document issued after February 3, 2003
  • Foreign Passport

Once you have those items settled, all you have to worry about is the exam. There are no worries here. When you successfully completed your Mariners Learning System coursework and lessons, the exam will be a breeze. Happy Testing!

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bad Weather and Rough Water – Part 2: Dealing with Current and High Winds


When learning to deal with bad weather and rough water it is important to learn how to understand and anticipate the flow and direction of the waves. If a wave looks like it is going to break, your only out may be to back down before the wave gets to the vessel. Stay extremely aware of any wave combinations and avoid spots ahead where they tend to peak. If they peak ahead in the same place, chances are they will peak there when you and your vessel are closer. Do not let a slightly different wave or wave combination catch you by surprise!

In a situation when the current and seas are going in the same direction, current has the effect of lengthening the waves. Longer waves are more stable, with the crests farther apart, with this said… You still need to use caution.

While heading into the seas and current, your boats forward speed over the ground (SOG) will be lessened; this in turn will require more time transiting the entrance. Increasing your boat speed may be necessary to maintain forward progress. However, do not increase your boat speed to a point that makes negotiating the waves hazardous. If you have increased your overall boat speed to maintain forward progress you will need to reduce the boats speed as you approach each wave crest individually to maintain control.

With following seas and current, your speed over the ground will be increased. Because the waves are farther apart, the effort required to ride the back of the wave ahead should be easier. With following seas the current is coming from behind your vessel, more forward way will be required to maintain steering control. As with all following seas, stay on the back of the wave ahead. Do not allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security. With higher speed over the ground and less maneuverability due to the following current, there is not as much time to avoid a situation ahead. Keep a hand on the throttle and adjust power continuously. When entering or exiting port less time will be spent in the inlet, canal, or fairway, stay extremely aware of any spots ahead to avoid. Maneuver early, as the current will carry the boat.

In addition to coping with the current and state of the seas it is also necessary to understand how to deal with high winds and the effects they will have on your boat when transiting harbors, inlets, or rivers.

Depending on your vessels design and sail area, it may be necessary to steadily apply helm to hold acourse in high winds. As a boat operator you should be able to “read” the water to identify stronger gusts. The amount of chop on the surface will increase in gusts, and extremely powerful gusts may even blow the tops off waves. The effect of a gust should be anticipated before it hits your boat. In large waves, the wave crest will block much of the wind when the boat is in the trough. Plan to offset its full force at the crest of the wave. The force of the wind may accentuate a breaking crest, and require steering into the wind when near the crest in head seas. Depending on the vessel, winds may force the bow off to one side while crossing the crest. For light vessels, the force of the wind at the wave crest could easily get under the bow sections (or sponson on a RIB), lift the bow to an unsafe angle, or force it sideways.

Though a light vessel must keep some speed to get over or through the crest of a large wave, do not use so much speed that the vessel clears the crest; most of the bottom is exposed to a high wind. Be particularly cautious in gusty conditions and stay ready for a sudden large gust when clearing a wave. If your boat is fitted with twin-engines, be ready to use asymmetric propulsion to get the bow into or through the wind. Early and steady application of power is much more effective than trying to “catch-up” by applying a burst of power. Vessels with large sail area and superstructures will develop an almost constant heel during high winds. In a gust, sudden heel, at times becoming extreme, may develop. This could cause handling difficulties at the crest of high waves. If the vessel exhibits theses tendencies, exercise extreme caution when cresting waves. Learn to safely balance available power and steering against the effects of winds and waves.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Rules of the Road Saved My Life


As a USCG Licensed Captain, a lot of opportunities come my way to earn a living. One of my favorites is as a delivery Captain. I would like to share one of these trips that was like no other and nearly cost my crew and me our lives...

I was sitting in a bar in Annapolis Maryland a few years ago when I met a couple who had just bought a 58 foot boat that they needed to have moved down to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. After the evening’s festivities were over we agreed that I was going to help their family with moving their new toy. Onboard would be the husband and wife with their two children, a 9-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. The trip would take place in early December and be completed prior to the holidays. The planned route was that we would travel the length of the Chesapeake Bay and exit into the Atlantic Ocean once we were in Norfolk, Virginia. Once we were out in the Atlantic we would be traveling southward along the coastline ducking inside to the ICW in the event of bad weather or the need for additional supplies or repairs.

We departed at the crack of dawn and had an uneventful day. Along the way I would ask the owners questions that pertained to the rules of the road to check understanding and educate them whenever necessary. I also took the time to check out all of the electronics and autopilot controls. This boat was missing nothing and was appraised at 1.6 million dollars. Experience has taught me not to be impressed with the price, but with the operational functionality of the vessel. This was one impressive boat and much to my surprise everything seemed to be working. Now the only thing to worry about was my crew.

As the day progressed I determined that we were going to be heading out into the ocean after dark. The area around Norfolk is a very heavily traveled area by numerous recreational, commercial and military vessels. As day becomes night the area can become very challenging to navigate even by an experienced Captain. I decided that it would be best for me to get some sleep prior to entering this heavily traveled area. A course was set, the autopilot was on and clear instructions to the crew were given. The most important instruction was to stay on the preplanned course and speed and not cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel area without waking me. I was assured all was understood and that my instructions would be followed. So I was able to now settle down into what nearly became my last sleeping moments...

I was abruptly wakened by the screams of shear terror coming from the owner’s wife requesting me to go topside and take control of the helm. I immediately jumped into action not asking any questions along the way. Once on deck I saw two of the brightest white spotlights I have ever seen shinning directly on the helm. There was no time to think and analyze the situation; I immediately turned the helm hard to starboard. At that very moment the Captain’s of what was two very large seagoing tugboats pulling six barges also turned their wheels hard to starboard. All that I could do now was to wait for the impending impact of our vessels hitting to occur along with the cold rush of water and the effects it would have on my crew and me. Due to the time of the year the water temperature was around 42 degrees and the moon had not risen. If we went into the water hypothermia would have disabled each of us and we would perish within just a matter of a few minutes. The only thing on our side was that I have a rule on these trips that all crew must wear lifejackets while on deck. In this case I think the lifejackets would have just made it easier for the recovery of our bodies.

In what had seemed to be a lifetime it was all over. We had missed by no more then the width of a football. It was almost as if King Neptune himself had decided that it was not our time to go and stepped in to prevent this tragedy from occurring. The truth be told our survival was due more to knowledge then that of luck or by any intervention from the heavenly bodies.

Let’s break down the events that allowed my crew to live another day to tell this story. First, each Captain involved had a thorough knowledge of the Rules of the Road that allowed the necessary actions to take place-avoiding loss of life. In this case there were three main rules that prevented this situation from becoming a tragedy:

Rule 14 – Head-on Situation: This rule states that when two power-driven vessels are meeting on a reciprocal or nearly reciprocal course so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so each shall pass on the port side of the other. This rule is why each Captain altered their course to starboard.

Rule 16 – Action by Give-way Vessel: Every vessel that is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear. In this case my vessel was considered the give-way vessel. We were clearly not following this rule prior to me taking the helm.

Rule 17 – Action by Stand-on Vessel: This rule has 3 main components:

When one of the two vessels is to keep out of the way, the other shall maintain her course and speed.  Although I was not at the helm I am sure that the two tugs did hold their course and speed.

The stand-on vessel may take action to avoid collision as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these rules. The two tugs were not obligated to change course at this point. They did have the option according to the rules; however, they chose to hold their course and speed.

When the stand-on vessel finds herself so close that a collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision. This is the moment that I took the helm. The tugs determined that my actions alone would not prevent a collision so they were bound by the Rules of the Road to change their course and speed or take any additional action to avoid a collision.

Now that the excitement was over and my knees stopped shaking my new target was the owner of the vessel who, from this day forward, has been known as reckless Randall. However, fate had once again stepped in. Reckless Randall’s wife took him below and he was not seen on deck until the following morning. I am not sure what she had said to him but it was clear my input was no longer necessary.

The moral to this story is that just because your boat is out of the water your boating season has not ended. Use this time wisely and take an educational course. It does not matter if it is a safe boating course, a course on electronic navigation or working on getting your Captains License. Take the winter to prepare yourself to be a safer and more knowledgeable boater. I assure you if I did not take the time to learn and understand the Rules of the Road my decision on which way to turn would have been no more than a flip of a coin. I do not know about you but I am not willing to risk life or limb on the result of a coin toss.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Is There a Captain’s License Under Your Tree?

One of the most popular items on many people’s wish lists this holiday season is sure to be a tablet of some kind. Apple’s iPad Air is their newest, lightest tablet available, but as the less-expensive Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, Google's Nexus 7, and  Samsung's Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab are giving consumers more options to become tablet owners. For those out there who are seeking their captain’s license, a tablet can be an excellent tool to help you make the grade.

The Mariners Learning System is not only available on your desktop pc or laptop; it’s available on your Blackberry, Android, iPhone, iPod, and tablets. There are many different ways to access the internet today. Our mariners school software caters to these different methods in order to help you access and absorb our captain’s license material. At the end of the day, no matter what your situation, you should be able to learn the necessary information to pass your examination and receive your license.

Unlike the traditional classroom, you can access the Mariners Learning System any time of the day and learn the material on your own time. Since we have moved to an exclusive online school, our students have remarked on the ease and convenience of online learning. Our coursework is a combination of different pedagogical approaches including lecture audio, video, and traditional text. If you’ve always thought about getting your captain’s license but weren’t sure you had the time or means, rethink your options with Mariners Learning System.

Just as tablets and mobile devices are redefining how we look at the internet, Mariners Learning System is changing how mariners get their license.