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boatusreports by Ryck Lydecker

Coming To A Lake Near You?

Life jackets are essential equipment; every boater knows that, and carries them aboard out of common sense as much as to comply with federal boating regulations. But now the nation's largest manager of recreational waters wants all boaters — adults included — to not just carry life jackets on their boats but to wear them at all times, on at least a few of its lakes.

In a pilot study that has every indication of spreading to other water bodies under its jurisdiction, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now mandates that everyone aboard a motorized vessel of any size must wear a life jacket at all times when underway on California's Pine Flat Lake. For boats under 16 feet, the rule applies to everyone aboard, at all times, and applies to non-motorized boats, like canoes and kayaks, as well. Everyone aboard a boat 16-feet and longer must wear a life jacket when under way, except when inside an enclosed cabin or under power from a trolling motor.

The Corps actually adopted the rules at Pine Flat Lake as an addition to a three-year study already underway that implemented similar regulations in the agency's Pittsburgh District, covering the Youghiogheny River and Shenango River Lakes in western Pennsylvania, as well as on five lakes within the Vicksburg District in Mississippi. While the word "study" implies a temporary ruling, the Corps says it's considering more permanent life jacket rules for much larger geographical areas in the future.

Unlike state agencies, or even the U.S. Coast Guard, the Corps of Engineers can make this kind of change without any public comment. The Pine Flat Lake regulation is in effect from April 1, 2011, until October 31, 2011, and specifies that boaters must wear only U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. The rule carries a $175 fine for non-compliance and applies to all swimmers outside designated swimming areas.

The Pennsylvania rule, in place since 1990, and the Mississippi regulations, in force since 2009 when the study began, also apply to boats under 16-feet. The Coast Guard agreed to measure life jacket wear rates in the study areas but thus far, according to a Corps project summary, the results appear inconsistent. (The Coast Guard no longer monitors compliance in the Pittsburgh District.) The summary notes that the Corps study team plans to deliver its recommendations to the commander by "December 2011 or later."

The Army Corps of Engineers manages some 450 lakes in 43 states with over 3,500 launching ramps, making it the country's largest provider of water-based recreation opportunities. In fact, the Corps has more boats than the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard, combined.

"Many experienced boaters have strong reservations about government mandates for adults to wear lifejackets," reports BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs, Margaret Podlich. She noted that with nearly 372 million visits a year at the Corps lakes, beaches, and other areas, boating-related fatalities nationwide average 32 deaths a year, "not including those who drowned after voluntarily leaving a boat to swim."

Blackboard Boatbuilding

Even in high school, math doesn't have to be boring. That's what Christopher Skiba and the Virginia chapter of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers hope to get across with their annual ship-design contest. This year, the competition's fourth, 50 teams of high schoolers from across the state took part in a scaled-down version of the big-ship building process.

The boat from Granby High School, Norfolk, VA.

When he was a student at Newport News Shipbuilding apprentice school, Skiba was part of the group that came up with the contest as a way to impart the exciting aspects of engineering by using math and physics to build a boat, and race it against other boats. The contest is a lot of work, says Skiba, but "when you meet the students and see the passion they have for it, and they say 'Wow, this is cool, I didn't realize how much was involved in designing boats. This is really exciting,' that's what makes it worth it for us."

Over its brief run, the contest has grown to the point where they need to enlist judges from across the country to winnow down the designs to the top finalists, and it has become a year-round hobby for the organizers. Along the way, students have to meet project deadlines, calculate weights and waterlines, and consult with professional shipbuilders to make their projects seaworthy.

Designs are limited to the use of two sheets of 1/8-inch steel measuring 5x10 feet and a team of professionals at Newport News Shipbuilding builds the top four. Once the four boats are built, they must be tested, and the most important criteria are maneuverability and, of course, speed. Powered by a radio-controlled trolling motor, the small craft must navigate a course with cargos ranging from two 50-pound bags of sand, to 800 golf balls. This year, a team from Jamestown High School in Williamsburg, Virginia, took first place with their design, christened Anchor Management.

Budget To Dim "Eyes in the Sky"?

Rescuers pulled sailor Abby Sunderland from the Indian Ocean in June 2010 after she'd capsized and dismasted her 40-foot sailboat, and activated two EPIRBs aboard. Those signals initiated a successful, four-nation search-and-rescue operation made possible by NOAA's polar-orbiting and geostationary satellite network, but the system itself could be in trouble now.

The federal budget compromise worked out in April 2010 and due to expire at the end of September will have the unintended consequence of delaying the launch of replacement satellites, in 2014 and 2018, potentially leaving gaps in time where there could be no operational polar-orbiting weather satellites. The spending bill to fund the federal government for the final five months of the 2011 fiscal year holds the polar-orbiting weather satellite system at its 2010 funding level, delaying both new satellites by 18 months.

This could mean that response time to signals from distressed mariners and pilots could double, according to NOAA. While the geostationary weather satellites now aloft have searchand- rescue capabilities, polar satellites fly at lower altitude and receive distress signals more quickly. They cover the globe versus the weather satellites that stay over the continental U.S. Polar satellites also monitor weather and climate buoys that contribute to accurate forecasting for severe weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes. Congress and the administration are continuing to negotiate the federal budget for fiscal year 2012, which starts October 1.

Watermen Turn Ghost Busters In The Chesapeake

Virginia watermen removed 10,000 inactive crab pots from the Chesapeake Bay last winter, according to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The state's debris-removal program, which is in its third year, has taken 28,000 "ghost pots" out of the water, along with other abandoned junk, which this year included fishing nets, a john boat, a generator frame, and a crate for transporting hunting dogs. The winter crab dredging season, when watermen tow gear that scrapes the bottom in the southern part of the bay for pregnant, hibernating blue crab, has been cancelled for the past three years, according to Resources Commission spokesman John Bull, and the watermen have been equipped instead with side-imaging sonar and paid $300 a day to seek out trash.

Over 28,000 fewer lost crab traps now haunt Chesapeake Bay, thanks to a three-year marine debris removal program in Virginia.

"We figured they were out of work for the winter," Bull said, "and we put this program together to have them do something environmentally beneficial, since they couldn't be dredging for crab because we closed the fishery. So it did help them, and it's certainly helped the Bay."

Since 2008, when the Chesapeake's blue crab fishery was declared to be in a state of disaster by the federal government, Bull says crab populations have rebounded significantly. Currently, the crab population is believed to be at its second-highest level since 1997, despite a harsh freeze last winter that killed as much as 31 percent of the Bay's iconic crustaceans.

Bull says the number of pots removed from the area has remained stable at about 10,000 a year, since 2008. The crab pots are damaging because they continue to do their job long after the buoys that marked them have disappeared. "Crab pots are designed to catch living creatures for harvest, and if they're rolling around on the bottom, they're still doing what they were designed to do. They were designed to catch crab, but they also catch a number of other creatures. Our scientists have discovered turtles, ducks, all different kinds of fish, things like that."

The Virginia program is unique in its scale, and in uniting scientists and watermen, but NOAA, which funds the $1-million-a-year effort, also runs a national Marine Debris Removal program, including a smart phone application that allows boaters to report debris they encounter. Visit www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu/tracking and log the GPS coordinates for future removal.

2011 Sea Scout Flagship Selected

If a trim white cruiser passes upwind when you're cruising on the Columbia River and you get a whiff of French fries, chances are it's a Sea Scout vessel and it's crewed by accomplished young mariners who've sailed off with the BoatUS National Sea Scout Flagship Award for 2011. Sea Scout Ship 678, Tsunami, homeport Battle Ground, Washington, joined an elite roster in May when a panel of judges recognized its excellence in program quality, youth achievement, and adult commitment by bestowing the prestigious award.

Sea Scouts from Ship 678, Tidal Wave, earned this year's Flagship Award sponsored by BoatUS

And the French fry fragrance? That's because this year's winner is charting a course into Sea Scouting's second century by running its 36-foot converted Vietnam-era minesweeping launch on biodiesel fuel. The Sea Scouts began running the boat, Tidal Wave, on 75-percent biodiesel fuel as part of a science project at a local high school that two of the youth attend. According to Dennis Moore, adult skipper of Ship 678, the fuel is made from reclaimed cooking oil and runs Tidal Wave's Detroit V635 engine about 10 to 20 degrees cooler than on a diet of straight petroleum fuel. The Sea Scout crew keeps operation and upkeep records as part of the class project. Moore said the plan is to go to 100-percent biodiesel and compare the results.

Moore, two other officers, and eight youth traveled to San Diego, California, to accept the award. Retired Coast Guard Vice Admiral Charles Wurster, who serves as Sea Scout National Commodore, presented the award at the Boy Scouts of America annual meeting on May 27. The ship and its youth crew conducted 42 days of on-the-water activities aboard Tidal Wave last year as well as on its Cascade 29 Ketch and other vessels in the Portland area Sea Scout fleet. In addition, Ship 678 conducted four community service projects in and around its homeport on the lower Columbia River.

In 2002, BoatUS revived the venerable Sea Scout Flagship Award, discontinued after World War II, to mark the 90th anniversary of Sea Scouting and to solidify its partnership with Boy Scouts of America. "Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Sea Scouting and we're proud to cruise into a new century with such accomplished young people," said BoatUS founder and Chairman Richard Schwartz.

Sea Scouting is a co-ed program for young people, age 14-20, with over 6,000 youth participating in 550 ships nationwide. The name of Ship 678 will be added to a perpetual trophy recognizing all the annual winning ships at the BSA National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas. For info, or to find a Sea Scout unit in your area, visit www.scouting.org/scoutsource/Venturing/seascouts.aspx.

Tsunami Trash Headed East

The tsunami that devastated Japan in March also swept massive amounts of debris into the Pacific Ocean. The initial debris field, photographed by the U.S. Navy shortly after the earthquake that triggered the devastating waves, spread out over 70 miles of ocean and began a slow drift eastward on the North Pacific Current.

The debris field from Japan's tragic undersea earthquake and tsunami spread out over many miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Some items will sink or break up as they drift, but NOAA, which created a Web site of frequently asked questions about the debris, says some of the material that remains afloat will reach Hawaii and some could even wash up on the West Coast of the U.S. at some point. Exactly when and where it will make landfall, and how great a hazard it will pose to boaters, depends on winds and currents, and is difficult to predict. According to the Web site, "It will be a matter of years, not days or weeks."

As the island of debris drifted east, it began to scatter and NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service reported that as of April 14, the debris field was no longer visible from space. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the debris field for radioactivity, but NOAA called contamination "improbable." The U.S. Coast Guard will monitor Pacific waters to determine whether the debris creates any hazards to navigation.

Keep Clear Of Killer Whales

Since passage of a Washington state law in 2008, Puget Sound boaters have had to stay 100 yards away from killer whales, and now NOAA's Fisheries Service has doubled the zone, since May 16. The federal rules prohibit all vessels, including recreational boats, from approaching any killer whale closer than 200 yards. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the rule also forbids vessels from intercepting a whale or positioning the vessel in a whale's path, to a distance of 400 yards.

All vessels in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, including recreational boats, must now stay 200 yards away from killer whales under a new federal Endangered Species Act ruling.

The federal rules apply to all types of boats, including sailboats and human-powered craft like kayaks and canoes, as well as to the popular commercial whale-watching vessels in these waters. After extensive public comment, NOAA did back down from a proposed half-mile-wide no-go zone along the west side of San Juan Island where all vessel traffic would be prohibited from May 1 through the end of September.

The Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife already has an enforcement agreement with NOAA and is enforcing the new restriction zones this season, according to Capt. Mike Cenci of the department. While NOAA has its own investigators, Cenci said his state marine officers are the primary enforcement arm.

The state law carries a maximum civil penalty of $1,025 but has exemptions in situations that could compromise vessel safety or where weather or water conditions affect a boat's maneuverability. Although the department has issued 10 citations since the law went into effect, he added that boaters have to commit "pretty egregious acts before we would cite them. Often times you don't know the whales are there until they are right beside you," he says. "A vessel can find itself in a situation where they are technically in violation but through no fault of their own. Those are not the people we are interested in citing."

The aim of the new rules is to protect what NOAA identifies as the southern resident population of killer whales, also know as orca, which the agency added to the federal Endangered Species list in late 2005. That population is estimated at 86 animals, about half of which are sexually mature, and they inhabit the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait as well as Puget Sound.

The agency issued a killer-whale recovery plan, as required under the law, in early 2008. It calls for actions to "reduce disturbance from vessels" but scientists have identified the current shortage of the whale's preferred prey, Chinook salmon, and water pollution as the major threats to the population.

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Top Honor For Tall Ship Program Founder

Dawn Santamaria (back row, second left), founder of Sisters Under Sail, is recipient of the 2011 Leadership in Women's Sailing Award.

The National Women's Sailing Association and BoatUS named Dawn Santamaria, founder of Sisters Under Sail, recipient of its 2011 Leadership In Women's Sailing Award. Santamaria accepted the honor June 4 at the 10th annual Women's Sailing Conference, held at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Sisters Under Sail is a unique program that has taken some 400 girls "down to the sea in ships," building confidence, enhancing self-esteem, and teaching the value of working together through sail training. Its classroom is the 110-foot, square topsail, gaff-rigged schooner Unicorn, said to be the only all-female crewed tall ship in the world. Girls come from all over the country to learn new skills aboard ship and expand their lives with accomplished sailors who quickly become female role models. Santamaria founded the non-profit organization in 2005 and Unicorn sails in alternate years on the Long Island-Maine route and in the Great Lakes.

The Leadership In Women's Sailing Award, created in 1999, honors an individual who has a record of achievement in inspiring, educating, and enriching the lives of women through sailing. National Women's Sailing Association founder Doris Colgate, president and CEO of Offshore Sailing School and recipient of the award in 2004, served as featured speaker at the conference. Read about Dawn Santamaria's accomplishments as well as previous award recipients on the BoatU.S Women in Boating Web site: www.BoatUS.com/women/leadership.asp.

First Test Mooring Fields Selected In Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has selected five local government jurisdictions for inclusion in a statewide mooring-field pilot program designed to untangle anchoring issues in the Sunshine State. A 2009 law to clarify the anchoring rights of cruising boaters prohibits local governments from regulating anchoring outside designated mooring fields. It also established the pilot program to test policies as well as new anchoring and mooring concepts.

Boot Key Harbor, in Marathon, is one of five mooring fields selected for a pilot program in Florida. Cruising boaters can download a revised fact sheet on the state's anchoring law at: www.BoatUS.com/gov

The cities are St. Petersburg and Sarasota on Florida's west coast and St. Augustine and Miami on the east coast. The law designated that Monroe County, which has mooring fields at Key West and Marathon, would be included in the pilot program as well. By the fall of 2011 the five jurisdictions are expected to draft ordinances to cover anchoring outside the mooring fields but only after significant input from boaters and cruisers alike (public meeting details will be posted at BoatUS.com/gov as they become available).

"Anchoring has been a contentious issue in some areas of Florida; and local elected officials, law enforcement officers and even boaters may not fully understand the changes," said BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich. She added that a revised Florida Anchoring Information fact sheet clarifies the law and is available for downloading at BoatUS.com/gov. (To request printed copies in bulk for groups, contact: GovtAffairs@BoatUS.com.)

"This is a tool that we hope cruising boaters will keep aboard to help educate others on the anchoring issue and help them protect their rights," she added. "We appreciate the commission's help in getting these fact sheets distributed to their officers as well as to other law enforcement agencies with marine divisions in Florida."

Sunscreen Changes For Boaters

In August of 1978, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would be making rules to govern the labeling of sunscreen, writing in the Federal Register that "the issue is important and requires careful study." That study took 33 years; new rules were announced this June. Among the new labeling requirements, as of next summer (2012) manufacturers may no longer claim their sunscreen is "waterproof" or "sweatproof," or call their wares "sunblock." Water-resistance claims must be backed by testing, and any product alleging to provide instant or extended protection from the sun must submit data to back those claims. All sunscreens will need a "drug facts" label on the container. Sunscreens claiming to be "broad-spectrum," that is, blocking both UVA and UVB types of ultraviolet light, will need to pass an FDA test to verify it, and only those that pass will be able to claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, even on cloudy days, and (no matter what it says on the label) reapplying it every two hours, or after swimming.