Thursday, July 31, 2014

MLS Seamanship Series (Week 31) - Electronic Charts (Raster vs. Vector)

Although there are many suppliers of electronic charts, the charts themselves can be divided into two groups: raster and vector. Raster charts can be regarded as electronic photocopies of paper charts, produced by scanning a master copy of a paper chart, in much the same way as a fax machine scans a document that is about to be sent. The chart is broken down into a vast number of tiny dots (pixels), and the position and color of each pixel is recorded. Instead of sending this information down a telephone line, as a fax machine does, the chart scanner stores it on the cartographer’s computer, from where it can be copied onto flash memory cards or CD-ROMS, and supplied to customers.

Raster charts are relatively cheap and simple to make, but each chart uses a lot of memory or disc space. Because they are electronically copied straight from the paper chart, they are familiar in appearance, and contain exactly the same information: nothing is added or taken away. The drawback is that they can only be used effectively at about the same scale as the original chart: if you zoom in, then letters and symbols become huge, but without any extra detail becoming visible; while if you zoom out, names and symbols become illegible.

Vector charts are produced by electronically tracing raster charts. The fundamental difference is that lines are not stored as strings of darkened pixels, but as lines. Vector charts originally became popular for small boat hardware plotters because although they are more expensive to produce, they occupy much less memory. The vector format also allows more flexibility in the way the chart is used: a vector chart can be zoomed in or out much further than a raster chart, but the letters and symbols always stay the same size.

On a raster based chart, a feature such as a buoy is represented by a cluster of colored pixels that make up the shape of a buoy symbol exactly as it appears on the original paper chart. On a vector chart, however, the buoy’s position is linked to a database of information about the buoy. The software can use this database in various ways. Some programs will represent all navigation aids by means of the same diamond-shaped symbol. When you select one (by ‘pointing at it’ with the cursor) the data is revealed in a text panel somewhere on the screen. Other systems use the database information to display a symbol showing the shape and color of the buoy itself.

More sophisticated versions of this are used on some electronic charts to provide graphic representations of the changing height of tide at particular places, to provide additional information such as lists of port facilities, or to superimpose arrows showing the tidal stream on top of the main chart.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So you want to be a Captain - Documenting Boating Experience

For your boating experience (sea service) to count towards a Captain's License you must be able to document it. The Small Vessel Sea Service Form (CG 719S) provides an easy format to document the time that you have spent out on the water. You must complete one form for each vessel you are claiming experience on. For service on vessels under 200 gross tons, owners of vessels may attest to their own service; however, those who do not own a vessel must obtain evidence from the owners of the vessels listed. The documentary evidence that you submit must contain the amount and nature of your experience, the vessel name, gross tonnage, official numbers, the routes upon which the experience was acquired, and approximate dates of service.

Section I -  Application Information
This section contains information about the applicant, the vessel and the body of water the vessel was operated on.

  1.  Only one vessel per Small Vessel Sea Service form.
  2.  If you do not know the Gross Tonnage (GT) of your vessel and you know the width, length, and depth, you can use this calculation to get the GT: Length x Width x Depth x .67 divided by 100.
  3. Select the capacity which you served on this vessel.
  4. Lakes, Bays, sounds, Rivers, and Inter Coastal Waterways are considered shoreward/Inland (i.e., Chesapeake Bay or San Fransisco Bay are considered shoreward/Inland water).
 Section II - Record of Underway Service
This section is where you count your days of experience; treat it like a calendar. List the number of days that you were underway for each month of each year, based on your best recollection.
  1. The total number of days should be the sum of the days listed in the months above.
  2. Most CG Regional Exam centers (REC's) will accept 4 hours to count as one day for the OUPV/Six-pack/Charter Boat Captain or 25/50/100 Ton Master License. In no case will this period be less than 4 hours.
  3. The first box should be a breakdown of the number of days spent on the Great Lakes, the second box should be a breakdown of the number of days spent shoreward of the boundary line (or Inland Waters), and the third box should be a breakdown of the number of days spent seaward of the boundary line (or on Near Coastal waters). The total of these three boxes should match the total listed in Box #1.
Helpful Hints for Section II:
  • Do not list underway days per month repetitively. For example: If you record being underway 30 days for every month for 5 years this will raise a red flag. You will be sent an Awaiting Information Letter from the National Maritime Center requiring an accurate accounting of this time underway.
  • Do not list the same underway time on multiple vessels. For example: Indicating 25 days underway for the month of March 2012 on the vessel Impossible, AND 25 days underway for the month of March 2012 on the vessel Can't Be. There are only 31 days in March not 50. If for some reason you were working 4 hour shifts on multiple vessels you will need to send an explanation of this.
Section III - Signature and Verification
Completing this section is considered documenting your sea service experience. It must be signed by the applicant and the vessel owner, operator or master. If the applicant was the vessel owner than proof of ownership, such as state registration or vessel documentation, must be included.
  1.  Applicant will always sign and date this line.
  2. If you are the OWNER of the vessel listed on this form, proof of ownership must be provided. Proof of ownership should include your name (name of applicant) and the official number or state registration number of the vessel. Acceptable forms of proof of ownership include registrations, proof of insurance, and bills of sale. If you are signing as the owner of a company such as an LLC, then you will need to include proof of ownership of the company such as articles of incorporation.
  3. If you are the applicant and owner of the vessel on the form, you do not need to sign and date this section. If you are the applicant and do not own the vessel on the form, then you will need to have the owner, operator, or master sign, date, and provide his/her address and phone number. If you are the Master of the vessel but not the owner, you cannot attest to your own service. You must have the owner of the vessel complete the days underway and sign in this section and give their address and phone number.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

MLS Seamanship Series (Week 30) – Safe Speed

The Navigational Rules of the Road (Rule 6) states that you need to set a safe speed in all conditions of visibility. This obviously does not mean the same “safe speed” applies in good as well as restricted visibility. The first requirement of this rule is to consider what the state of visibility is because safe speed in any condition must be closely related to the immediate circumstances and conditions at hand. A boat at high speed has a large amount of force.  With an untrained operator, this force can be dangerous.

The following different factors should be considered to determine safe speed:
  • Heavy seas:  Slow down as winds and seas increase; the boat will handle more easily.  Pounding or becoming airborne fatigues the hull and could injure your crew or cause them chronic body aches and pains.
  • Traffic density:  Do not use high speed in high traffic density areas.  A safe speed allows response to developing situations and minimizes risk of collision, not only with the nearest approaching vessel, but with others around it.
  • Visibility:  If conditions make it difficult to see, slow down.  Fog, rain, and snow are obvious limits to visibility, but there are others.  Visible features and obstructions (river bends, piers, bridges and causeways), along with heavy vessel traffic, can limit the view of “the big picture.” Darkness or steering directly into the sun lessens ability to see objects or judge distances.  Prevent spray on the windscreen (particularly salt spray or freezing spray) as much as possible and clean it regularly.  Spray build-up on the windscreen is particularly hazardous in darkness or when you experience glare.
Besides Heavy Seas, Traffic Density, and Visibility, there are additional external factors that will have an effect on your vessels ability to run at a safe speed.

In shallow water, the bottom has an effect on the movement of the vessel.  Slow down in shallow water.  In extremely shallow water, the vessel’s stern tends to “squat” and actually moves closer to the bottom.

In narrow channels and canals, a vessel moving through the water will cause the “wedge” of water between the bow and the nearer bank to build up higher than on the other side.  This bank cushion tends to push the bow away from the edge of the channel.

When meeting another vessel close aboard, bow cushion and stern suction occur between the vessels much the same as bank cushion and suction.  Helm corrections should be used to compensate.  As both vessels move through the water, the combined effect is greater than what a single vessel encounters from bank interaction.  Caution should be used so the bow does not veer too far from the intended track and the stern swings into the path of the other vessel.

All vessels are responsible for their wake and any injury or damage it might cause.  Only a poorly trained or ignorant boat operator trails a large wake through a mooring area or shallows, tossing vessels and straining moorings. A large, unnecessary wake, particularly in enclosed waters or near other smaller vessels, is unnecessary and can cause damage or injure others.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

So You Want To Be a Captain – Court Convictions and Assessment Periods

When applying for a Captain’s License you will be required to answer a series of questions on
various forms. The topics will include issues that relate to your use of any dangerous drugs or convictions by any court for offenses other than minor traffic violations.

If you have plead guilty, no contest, been granted deferred adjudication, required by the court to attend classes, make contributions of time or money, receive treatment, submit to any manner of probation or supervision, or forgo appeal of a trial court’s conviction, then the Coast Guard will consider you to have received a conviction. 

You will be going through a background check and the information will likely be revealed. Even if the courts said the offense will be expunged or erased after a period of time. The Coast Guard is not asking did it go away… They are asking if it ever occurred. If you do not report a Conviction the Coast Guard will most likely be looking into the fact that you have now submitted a fraudulent application.

If there are issues in your past the Coast Guard will evaluate any offense using the guidelines published in the tables found in 46 CFR 10.201(h). These guidelines set out the minimum and maximum “assessment periods” that will affect when your license application may be processed. These tables are used by the Coast Guard as guidelines and you must remember that they are just that guidelines. The assessment period may vary depending on the nature and number of convictions in your past. In addition these tables do not list all of the offenses that could affect a license being issued in the first place.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

MLS Seamanship Series (Week 29) - Boat Nomenclature and Terminology

As with any profession or skill, there are special terms that mariners use. Many of these terms have a
fascinating history. Fellow mariners will expect that these terms will be used in routine conversation.

The front end of a boat is the bow. Moving toward the bow is going forward; when the boat moves forward, it is going ahead. When facing the bow, the front right side is the starboard bow, and the front left side is the port bow. The central or middle area of a boat is amidships.

The right center side is the starboard beam, and the left center side is the port beam. The rear of a boat is the stern. Moving toward the stern is going aft. When the boat moves backwards, it is going astern. Standing at the stern looking forward, the right rear section is the starboard quarter and the left rear section is the port quarter.

Starboard is the entire right side of a boat, from bow to stern and Port is the entire left side of a boat, from bow to stern. A line or anything else running from side to side is athwartships. Inboard is from either side of the boat toward the centerline. However, there is a variation in the use of outboard and inboard when a boat is tied up alongside something (e.g., pier or another vessel). In this example, the side tied up is inboard; the side away is outboard.

Going topside is moving from a lower deck to a weather deck or upper deck. Going below is moving from an upper deck to a lower deck. Going aloft is going up into the boat’s rigging. The weather deck is the deck exposed to the elements (weather). Lifelines or railings, erected around the edge of weather decks, are all technically called lifelines, although they may have different proper names. Windward is moving in the direction from which the wind is blowing; toward the wind. Leeward is the opposite point from which the wind is blowing; away from the wind. The term is pronounced “loo-urd”.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

So you want to be a Captain? Online learning Myth vs. Reality

Is online learning right for you?
A recent GALLUP poll found that 33% of Americans believed that online education provided the best curriculum options and was a better value economically compared to traditional classroom education. Studies show that online instructional programs work! That said, there are still fence-sitters out there who are reluctant to take the plunge.

The following list outlines some of the most common myths associated with earning your Captain's License online.

Myth #1: All online courses are the sameNot true!  Just like a traditional face-to-face class, the quality of online classes can vary greatly. Those organizations with restricted budgets or little online teaching experience may use formats that offer little more than text-heavy electronic correspondence courses.  However, on the other end of the spectrum, Mariners Learning System uses color, graphics, animation and simulations to assist with the learning process that can rival a Hollywood production. 

Myth #2:  Taking online courses is "settling" for a lesser-quality education. Many students enroll in an online course due to necessity rather than choice. They may live in a rural area or find themselves struggling to balance multiple obligations making it difficult to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar type school. The growing consensus is that online learning, if done well, can rival or in many cases surpass, the levels of quality and student education found in a traditional classroom setting. The content of Mariners Learning System online curriculum is comparable to that found in face-to-face classrooms in terms of material covered, but the online platform facilitates a broader array of delivery styles and greater level of interaction among students.

Myth #3: With online education you are "going it alone." As of the fall 2013, seven million people were taking online college courses in the U.S. alone. As an online student, you are part of a growing academic community of those who consider turning on a computer to be an integral part of "attending class." The truth is that by becoming a Mariners Learning System student you are not "going it alone" by any measure. Simply investing some time in clicking around the classroom and other parts of our school website will reveal a robust network of resources in place to support you.

Myth #4: Online courses are not as engaging as face-to-face courses. Online courses can be just as engaging as traditional face-to-face courses — but in different ways. Our instructors have a variety of tools to foster and support online engagement. They may use voice-over presentations and training videos to deliver a lecture, facilitate an online discussion between a student and staff, offer one-on-one telephone instruction; the possibilities are endless. But just as with face-to-face courses, online courses require active participation to gain the most out of the experience.

Myth #5: Online instructors are not as qualified as in-classroom faculty. Every Mariners Learning System instructor is a USCG Licensed Master that has gone through a rigorous approval process meeting the standards of the United States Coast Guard to become a certified instructor. They bring a level of knowledge, experience, and professionalism that add to the total learning experience. In the rare event an online instructor cannot answer your question, toll fee telephone support with one of our Staff Instructors will be provided.

 About Mariners Learning System

The Mariners Learning System is highly regarded and recognized, with its award winning courses earning the approval of the United States Coast Guard, National Maritime Center, Department of Military, Veteran Affairs, and Homeland Security.

The Mariners Learning System course materials include eBooks, training videos, and broadcast-quality audio lectures that are available on demand for every major device, including PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, tablets, and MP3 players. This "Anytime and Anywhere" learning approach allows you to learn wherever and whenever you have time time to study - at home, on a train, on a boat, or just sitting in traffic.

By assuming you know nothing to start, we teach you the basics while gradually building on that foundation to give you the complete breadth of knowledge you need to become a master seaman and pass your captain's exam. This learning method, refined and perfected by years of experience, has proven remarkably effective and is the reason Mariners Learning System has one of the highest success rates in the industry.

Upon completion of a course, taking our proctored exam, and meeting other requirements such as documenting seatime and passing a physical examination, you simply submit, within one year, the application package to the nearest Coast Guard Regional Exam Center and upon their review and approval, they will issue the license.

Are you interested in learning more? If so, watch this 4 minute demo and learn what all the excitement is about!

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Confessions of a Captain - How the Navigational 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 working 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 restaurant 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. 

On board would be the husband and wife who were both experienced boaters, 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 sheer 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 Captains of what was two very large seagoing tugboats pulling what appeared to be several 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 the crew and myself. At this time of 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 than 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 me and my crew 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 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 components:

1.     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.
2.  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.
3.   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.

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