Monday, November 24, 2014

Five Great Gift Ideas for the Boater in Your Life

There are a few things no boat captain should be without…A boat, a little buddy, and much more.
This holiday season, you likely can’t help with the boat (unless you’ve recently won the lottery; and in that case, can we be friends?) or the little buddy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give gifts that make the sailor in your life go “ooooh!”

1.  Accessories: Brass Megaphone 
Sure, you could cup your hands around your mouth and yell, but sailors look much better saying “Ahoy matey” with this sleek and antique Brass Megaphone.

2.  Safety: Captain in a Box™
This is the perfect gift for anyone who has been boating for a while and realize that there is more they need to learn. Captain in a Box™ is an all-inclusive learning solution designed to teach boaters all of the ins and outs necessary to become a USCG Licensed Captain; this is the gift that will continue to give for years to come! Click here to learn more.

3.   Emotional: Acknowledgement Plaque
Where it was getting their captain’s license or setting sail on their first boat, this elegant mounted bell rings with sentimental memories.

4.   Functional: Binoculars
Whether a replacement or a first, the military-grade, Steiner Commander 7x30c marine binocular is a must-have for any serious boater.

5.   High TechSea Faring Apps
Boating Magazine created this list of Apps, some are free, some have $200 subscriptions, but all are neat upgrades for the sailor in your life.

Because our clients are the foundation of our success, it's our pleasure to take time this holiday season to say "thank you." All of us at Mariners Learning System wish you and your loved ones a season filled with peace and happiness and the warmth of family and good friends.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

MLS Seamanship Series (Week 32) – Estimating Wave Height

An accurate estimate of wave height is subjective and sometimes difficult to accomplish, but there are a number of methods that, with practice, will give good results:
  • Height of eye – With your boat in the trough and on a level and even keel, any wave that obscures the horizon is greater than the height of a person’s eye.  One can also compare a wave to the deck edge or a structure such as the handrail.  The wave face is observed while bowing into it and in the trough on an even keel.  This is also generally the best method for judging surf.
  • Comparison with floating structures or vessels - This technique is most useful when observing from land, but may be applied while underway.  If the distance from the waterline to the top of a buoy is known to be 13 feet, that information can be used to determine the height of the waves passing it.  A buoy can also be used to determine the wave period.  One can observe a vessel underway and by estimating the freeboard of the vessel and observing its motions on the water, he or she can gain a fair estimate of the seas in which it is operating.
  • Comparison with a fixed structure - Observation of waves as they pass a fixed structure, such as a break-wall, jetty, or pier, can be very accurate and can also provide wave period.
  • Depth Sounder - Using a digital finder with a fast update speed can be very accurate for determining wave height.  By comparing the depth in the trough on even keel with the depth at the crest on even keel, an accurate measurement can be obtained.
All of these methods can be useful and fairly accurate for determining wave height, but they require practice and experience.  By comparing a local Weather Service buoy report with the crew’s observations, they can fine-tune their sense of wave height.  With enough practice, you should be able to judge wave heights simply by looking at the waves themselves.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

So you want to be a Captain - Safety and Suitability Check

Every boater wishing to obtain a Captain's License is required to go through a Safety and Suitability evaluation. During this process the National Maritime Center (NMC) evaluates an applicants criminal record to ensure that the person serving under the authority of a Captain's License poses no threat to safety of life or property.

Here is a list and short description of the checks performed during this phase of the licensing process:

A Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) is a identification credential issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), containing biometrics of the card holder. The National Maritime Center uses TSA as their primary source for information when conducting background investigations.A staff application screener will examine and verify that the applicant has applied for a TWIC.

Biographical Information
Biographical information such as name, date of birth, place of birth, social security number, criminal convictions statement, and other data is compared to the information recorded in the license application. Any discrepancies must be resolved prior to a Captain's License being issued.

Citizenship, Nationality, and Permanent Residence
The Safety and Suitability Evaluation (SSE) Branch verifies nationality, citizenship, and possession of a permanent resident card for non-U.S. citizens.

Criminal Record Review
After the SSE verify the citizenship, nationality, and lawful permanent residence, the applicant's criminal record will be reviewed for convictions that show evidence of a mariner's unsuitability for the duties and responsibilities of the Captain's License applied for.

Dangerous Drug Use
An applicant who has been convicted of a violation of a dangerous drug law or has failed a chemical test for drug use may encounter obstacles in both the SSE and the Medical Evaluation Division, and have to prove cure from drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.

National Driver Registry
All applicants must give their consent to a check of their National Driver Registry (NDR) record for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Reckless Driving convictions. The Coast Guard will consider offenses such as operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or reckless driving conviction only within the last three years, unless the applicant driver's license is currently suspended or revoked. Prior to the Coast Guard denying the application, the applicant will be supplied the information found in the NDR check and be given the opportunity to comment.

Based on this review the NMC will determine if the mariner is able to move to the next phase of the process. If there is a problem with the safety and suitability evaluation the mariner record will not continue to the next phase until it is resolved.

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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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