A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Friday, 27 May 2011

Navigating the USA

I always knew it was a different system of buoyaging in the USA, and I used to find it disconcerting when we sailed out of (or into) US ports during cruises that the buoys were on the “wrong side” of the ship. Over there the rule is “red, right, returning” (to the harbour), whereas here it is “there is no red port left in the bottle”, or (how I remember it) “we are right out of red port”. Then, passing through the Panama Canal, I couldn’t figure out the buoyaging at all! I won’t go into detail – you can look it up yourself – but, suffice to say that the Americas, Japan, Korea and the Philippines operate a different (and opposite) system to the rest of the world. So to do the Loop, we have to unlearn all our local knowledge and adapt to the US system.

If only it was that easy -  because, as it turns out, there is another system operating for the Intra Costal Waterway (ICW) and yet another for the Western inland waterways (Lakes and rivers).

In a previous posting, I mentioned a Kiwi who had done the Loop and brought his boat back home. Well, we managed to track him down (I will refer to him as Capt Pete) and we have had several visits and chances to admire his Meridian 459 (which is why we are keen on getting one). One of the things he warned us of was the lack of reference in many of the Waterway Guides and books about the Loop to the variances in the buoyaging systems, particularly when the ICW crosses conventional shipping channels. I have obtained the recommended guides from the USA and I must admit that, while there is some info about buoyaging in them, they do not really explain well the relationship between the systems. Capt Pete said he ran aground 4 times because of this confusion, until someone gave him the little gizmo in the pic below, after which he never grounded again.

This gizmo sticks to the helm dashboard, and when you go through the first set of buoys in a new system, you set the red and green caps to match the buoys and then use it for the rest of that waterway to tell you which side of the markers you should pass. Simple, huh! If anyone knows where I can get one from, please let me know (otherwise I will make one before we go).

I also found a US Coast Guard website that had a very good powerpoint presentation on it about buoyaging in all these areas. Some parts were still a little unclear so I have doctored it so I can understand it better based on information on other sites on the net. I don’t know how to put a powerpoint presentation on this blog, but can email it to anyone who wants it if they let me know. 

There is also a system of sound signals on the rivers that you need to know and adhere to because of the large amount and size of commercial barges using them. They consist of whistle or horn signals, or are spoken over the VHF radio with the number of the blasts or whistles being the side on which you should pass etc. ie 1 = port, 2 = stbd, or when all else fails 3 = going astern. It has been suggested that we have a label at the helm to remind us what these signals mean as getting it wrong could be disastrous. See more on: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_2_blasts_of_a_horn_on_a_boat_mean#ixzz1M087spmh

You can also get this information if you do a Safe Boating Course with someone like BoatUS. You can do this online for free at www.boatus.org/onlinecourse and at the end (providing you pass the final exam) you get a Certificate that says it is recognised by the US Coast Guard and should be enough to satisfy the Canadian requirements for proof of competence...... which is necessary if you wish to stay in Canada for more that 45 consecutive days. Just take note that when you enrole, although it will accept an overseas address, you have to declare that you live in one of the US States as the Certificate relates back to that State and some of the course content and exam questions reflect that States laws. I chose Illinois (and the Certificate I got says that I reside in Auckland, IL)......... but any State will do.

We should have some interesting moments on this voyage.

No comments:

Post a Comment