BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Edited by Ryck Lydecker and Chris Landers

Fishing (Not Golf!) Tops Lightning Deaths

Since 2006, lightning has killed 152 people engaged in outdoor leisure activities and, no, golfing is not at the top of the list; it's fishing, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). In a recent study of all 238 lightning deaths over the past seven years, the agency determined that 152 could be associated with leisure activities and that anglers accounted for 26 of those deaths, followed by campers (15 deaths), and boaters with 14 deaths.

NWS says the large number of fishing, camping, and boating lightning deaths may be because these activities require extra time to get to a safe place. "People often wait far too long to head to safety when a storm is approaching, and that puts them in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation," said John Jensenius, an NWS lightning safety specialist.

Statistically, the chances of death from lightning are 1 in 126,158, according to the National Safety Council. Nonetheless, lightning killed 14 anglers fishing from boats and 11 fishing from shore, with one fishing in the water. An analysis of accident records showed that at least five boat anglers did not appear to be seeking safe shelter at all. Of the 14 general boating deaths, only eight appeared to be headed to safety. Jensenius says that lightning can strike from 10 miles away: "If you can hear thunder, you can be struck."

The most important preventive measure for boaters, according to the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water, is to get off the water, if you can. A VHF radio or good weather app on your smartphone can warn you of an approaching storm with enough time to get to safety. If you can't, the Foundation offers these personal safety tips:

  • Lower any radio antennas and unplug electronics.
  • Stay low in the boat.
  • Try to be in the center of the boat.
  • Don't touch anything metallic if possible.
  • NEVER touch any two objects that might be connected to the boat's grounding system.
  • Try to stay dry.
  • If you're fishing, stop. Fishing rods are excellent electrical conductors.
  • Stay out of the water!

Lightning safety information and tips for protecting the boat are included in the BoatUS Foundation's free online boating safety course:

BP Cleanup Finished

Authorities in New Orleans announced last June that oil-spill cleanup efforts were completed in almost all of the states affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Duke Walker, the federal coordinator for the response, said in a press release that work in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi had reached a point where the minimal amount of oil being collected wasn't worth the possible environmental damage of collecting it. Future reports of oil spills in those states will be coordinated through the Coast Guard's National Response Center, which handles oil and chemical spills nationwide.

Photo of a boat on the water and Gulf Coast sunsetPhoto: Peter Cross

London-based BP says it has spent more than $14 billion on the cleanup so far, and will continue to fund restoration projects in the area. In Louisiana, where state officials have publicly criticized attempts to downgrade the cleanup, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority fought off plans for a similar end to operations there. An editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune said, "Shutting down the official response operation could make the process more cumbersome" and halt daily, BP-funded searches for oil on the Louisiana coast.

Do Old Shipwrecks Pose A New Spill Threat?

In 1943, a tanker called Gulfstate left Galveston carrying 78,000 barrels of crude oil destined for Portland, Maine. Six days later, about 50 miles from Marathon Key, Florida, the ship was hit by two torpedoes fired from a German submarine. The Gulfstate sank, leaving 43 dead and 18 survivors. The ship has never been located, and perhaps more importantly, neither has the oil. The Gulfstate is one of 87 shipwrecks identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as potential pollution sources in a recent report to the U.S. Coast Guard.

NOAA combed their database of 20,000 shipwrecks, narrowing the field to less than 100 priority cases, 36 of which were considered high priority like the Gulfstate, the worst offender by NOAA's reckoning. No one knows how much, if any, oil the Gulfstate still holds in its tanks, so the agency applied a formula of probabilities to it and other wrecks, taking into account the amount of oil in its original cargo, whether oil was reported on the water (survivors reported swimming through fire), and whether the vessel was torpedoed (it was) or known to have broken up (it wasn't).

The report and detailed sub-reports on each vessel were put together to allow the Coast Guard to determine what, if any, action was needed to avoid a potential environmental threat. In the Gulfstate's case, NOAA didn't recommend any further action. For other similar ships, like the torpedoed tanker Francis E. Powell, now a recreational dive site lying in shallow water off the coast of Virginia, and still holding an unknown quantity of bunker oil and gasoline, NOAA recommended a joint dive expedition with the Coast Guard to check on the cargo. The full report and detailed reports on other wrecks are available at NOAA's website:

Navy Takes Byte Out Of Piracy Threat

A computer model developed by U.S. Navy oceanographers can now predict the likelihood of pirate attacks on merchant shipping off the coast of Africa. Using environmental ocean data, shipping information, and known pirate operations, it can forecast the vulnerability of cargo ships to pirate attack at certain coordinates and times.

Heading South For The Winter?

Don't be surprised by what you find. If you're traveling anywhere on the East Coast, BoatUS cruising experts Tom and Mel Neale have you covered. For the latest updates on navigation, weather, and anything else that might pop up, check out East Coast Alerts, or subscribe by email, at

Boating Business On The Way Back?

After devastating declines in sales, employment, and manufacturing capacity immediately following the economic recession, recreational boating stayed on a steady recovery course during 2012.

According to a recent economic survey by the NMMA, sales of new power and sailboats increased 10.7 percent, to 163,245 units, with sailboats racking up a 29.2-percent gain while small fiberglass and aluminum outboards (26 feet and under) continued their upward climb to an 11.3-percent sales increase for last year.

If You Fix It, They Will Come — Fast!

In addition to this season's water increase, experts believe that the coming winter will bring in even more water for the spring of 2014. Meteorologists are predicting a cooler winter with above-average precipitation. This new Great Lakes trend will relieve some frustration for boaters who have had to limit their time on the water this season. Keep your fingers crossed for a cold and snowy winter.

To restore the estuary, the Skokomish Indian Nation teamed up for a joint project with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Mason Conservation District to remove dikes across 300 acres of historical marsh, and simply let nature take its course. Once reconnected, the river and regular tidal flow began to form a quality fish habitat naturally in the estuary. Today 20 different fish species are swimming through the restored habitat, including threatened Chinook and summer chum salmon.

Great Lakes On The Rise

After two years of near-record-low water levels, it appears that the Great Lakes are back on the upward rise. Lake Superior posted a historic 9-inch increase last May, making that the second largest monthly increase since 1918. Additionally, June saw a 4-inch increase in the lake's water level. With more water coming into Lake Superior, it's no surprise that the other lakes have seen steady increases as well. Lakes Michigan and Huron saw a 5-inch increase in May and a 4-inch increase in June. The two lakes are forecast to be 12 to 13 inches above record lows by December.

Photo of snow on the Great LakesPhoto: Bryan Hansel

In addition to this season's water increase, experts believe that the coming winter will bring in even more water for the spring of 2014. Meteorologists are predicting a cooler winter with above-average precipitation. This new Great Lakes trend will relieve some frustration for boaters who have had to limit their time on the water this season. Keep your fingers crossed for a cold and snowy winter.

High Court Deals Low Blow

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a suit brought by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and others that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2010 decision to allow gasoline containing 15-percent ethanol in the retail marketplace. The original suit maintained that the EPA's partial waiver allowing sale of E15 for some engines and not for others violates the federal Clean Air Act and other laws. The EPA has approved 15-percent ethanol as a fuel additive for vehicles in model year 2001 and newer. E15 has been shown to damage older automotive engines and inboard and outboard boat engines.

An NMMA spokeswoman said the coalition would shift its strategy to litigation alleging that the EPA's "misfueling mitigation plan" is insufficient to prevent the public from inadvertently using E15 in engines not approved for its use, including all boat engines. The EPA prevention initiative consists primarily of a 4-inch-square orange sticker that retailers are required to affix to pumps dispensing E15. The fuel already is showing up in some Midwest states and test-market surveys have shown that some stations in those states fail to carry the warning sticker, much less label the pumps as dispensing E15 at all. "E15 is out there, and the Supreme Court decision means we're likely to see more of it in the marketplace," says BoatUS President Margaret Podlich. "If you buy boat gas at service stations, always check the labels. If it's not clear what's in the pump, ask."


Study Finds Carp Can Spawn In Great Lakes

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study released in June shows that the feared Asian carp now headed up the Illinois River/Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal system toward the Great Lakes could be right at home in the big water. That's if they make it past electrical barriers and other measures to prevent their spread. And if so, findings indicate that two species of invasive Asian carp — silver and bighead carp — may be able to spawn in more Great Lakes tributaries than previously thought. The non-native fish threaten the $7 billion sportfishing industry on the Great Lakes and could pose substantial environmental and economic problems, should they become established.

This study determined that carp could spawn successfully in river stretches as short as 16 miles, far shorter than the 62 miles previously thought to be required.

If Asian carp spread into the Great Lakes, knowing where to expect them to spawn is a critical step in control," said USGS scientist Elizabeth Murphy. A few weeks prior to the release of the study findings, the Council of Great Lakes Governors unveiled its list of "least wanted" aquatic invasive species. The list includes the infamous Asian carp and six other fish, including the notorious "Frankenfish," the northern snakehead, plus three aquatic invertebrates and five aquatic plants. The council, which includes the premiers of Quebec and Ontario, pledged various forms of executive action to stop introductions and prevent trade in species on the list. That could entail closing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal system, now a key link for cruising boaters circuiting the eastern U.S. via the Great Loop and a major commercial barge route.

Reviving Rigs To Reefs

In the Gulf of Mexico offshore oil industry, the jargon for rigs that are beyond their useful life is "idle iron." But non-producing oil and gas wells are far from idle, as sea life of all descriptions thrive on the legs, pipes, and other below-water portions of these structures. Under federal law, when a rig surpasses its useful life span, or the well is no longer producing oil or gas, the operator must remove it from the water. Alternatively, and much to the delight of Gulf Coast offshore anglers, the structure may be turned over to a state-operated artificial reef program.

Although rigs-to-reefs programs have been in place for decades under the auspices of the fish and wildlife agencies in the five Gulf states, the process is bureaucratic, time-consuming, and sometimes more expensive than just dismantling and removing the structures completely. But "reefing" just got easier, thanks to a major policy shift by the federal agency in charge of leasing oil and gas tracts to private operators and making decisions about the fate of idle rigs. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), an arm of the Department of the Interior, in June revised its policy for evaluating proposals to convert obsolete offshore platforms into artificial reefs, making it easier and more cost-effective for operators to participate with the states.

The policy removes a requirement for a five-mile buffer zone between designated reefing areas as well as certain restrictions to reefing the structure where it stands, a process called "reefing in place." It also allows extensions to decommissioning deadlines when companies are actively pursuing acceptance into a state program, and eliminates storm-toppled platforms from consideration.

"We've been working with our federal partners, state officials, and affected stakeholders [anglers] regarding inclusion of oil and gas infrastructure in the states' artificial reef programs," said BSEE Director James A. Watson in announcing the policy, which angler groups, including BoatUS, have advocated for the past 18 months. "It reflects the feedback we received and provides states greater flexibility in their planning, while ensuring the marine environment is protected."

West Coast Rally Milestone

If longevity is a measure of success in a boaters' rally, then the West Coast Baja Ha Ha is the king, with its 20th running this October. The event expects the usual 150-200 boats on the starting line in San Diego, California, on October 28 for the 750-mile odyssey down the west coast of Mexico to Cabo San Lucas.

"In 1994, we launched an event that had been done biannually by the Long Beach Yacht Club," says Richard Spindler, self-titled Grand pooh-bah of the Ha Ha. "We had 39 boats and the mother ship was my Ocean 71 Big O. We had so much fun, we decided to do it every year." Today, Spindler and his crew, Andy Turpin (assistant pooh-bah) and Dona de Mallorca (chief of security), sail each year on the Spindlers' Profligate, a 63-foot catamaran. Each boat needs to be self-sufficient as there are only two stops: the dusty little town of Turtle Bay where you can get fuel, some provisions, and internet service, and Bahia Santa Maria where there is nothing but a restaurant with a band that comes into existence one day a year, to entertain the fleet of the Ha Ha.

Spindler estimates that about 2,500 boats and 10,000 sailors have participated since the Ha Ha's inception. Any boat over 27 feet with a crew of at least two can participate. Powerboats are welcome. The emphasis is on having fun and staying safe; there's no official inspection of the boats because Spindler says the Ha Ha crew is not there to tell anyone what to do or how to do it. However, there are lots of the sponsors on hand before, after, and at times during, who offer all sorts of equipment and services to help get the boats ready for a long passage.

There has never been an interruption in the running of the Ha Ha, perhaps because it is a relatively manageable long-distance rally. Unlike many East Coast and transatlantic rallies and races, the Ha Ha is mostly a benign downwind adventure.

"The best thing about this event is the people," adds Spindler. "I love to catch up with the boaters along the way and see that look of accomplishment on their faces. It's a confidence-inspiring first step for many who go on to cruise the world. It is just the kind of event that makes friends for life."

Cup Art Overflows

A painting of the legendary America's Cup competitor, the 12-Meter sloop Weatherly, by noted marine artist Montague J. Dawson, showing Weatherly competing in the 1962 competition, was recently sold by Cleveland-based Gray's Auctioneers for $102,000. Appraisers had set the sale estimate between $70,000 and $90,000.

Fish Guts Count

To assist fishery scientists in better understanding the fish they pursue, last year over 50 individual saltwater anglers on the West Coast carefully collected stomachs, fin clips, otoliths (the ear bone, used to age fish), gonads, or other organs from: 75 albacore, 381 bluefin tuna, 199 yellowfin tuna, 159 yellowtail, and 50 rockfish, according to NOAA Fisheries.

Coming Soon ... Our New DIY Projects Issue!

In October, members who are part of our BoatUS TRAILER ASSIST Roadside Assistance program will receive a special edition of Trailering Magazine. Don't miss it. It's an exclusive issue, full of great articles:

  • Boat and trailer maintenance
  • Security, fishing, and cleaning tips Step-by-step projects such as repacking bearings, installing a tranducer, repairing trailers, bunks, and electrics
  • Boat-handling tips on docking, solving problems at the ramp, and much more.

BoatUS TRAILER ASSIST (only $14/year) is our on-the-road service that will come to your assistance if you break down on the side of the road while trailering your boat, or will get you to a repair shop within 100 miles. Our special edition, 160 Great Trailering Tips, Tactics & Projects, is one of the many benefits of BoatUS TRAILER ASSIST. You'll also receive a $15 West Marine coupon good with a $100 purchase (this alone covers the cost of TRAILER ASSIST!); two special editions of BoatUS Trailering Magazine; and six E-Editions filled with useful articles, seasonal maintenance advice, clever techniques, and info on new products. To add TRAILER ASSIST to your membership, just call 800-395-2628 or visit

Use Drilling Royalties For An Ocean Trust Fund?

Washington, D.C., think tank has called for more federal spending on ocean issues. Unlike similar campaigns, however, this one identifies an existing source of funding by advocating use of royalties from commercial oil and gas drilling leases to pay for new ocean and coastal science, management, and ecosystem restoration. In its recent report of recommendations to Congress and President Obama, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative also highlights the urgency for increased "ocean management" spending following hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, plus new funding for increasingly sophisticated ocean observing systems.

The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, founded in 2005 to advocate earlier recommendations of the presidentially appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the privately funded Pew Ocean Commission, also calls on the federal government to accelerate ocean renewable energy development. That refers to offshore wind farms, and wave and tidal power stations built to generate electricity. Under the proposal, such facilities also would pay royalties into the trust fund, increasing ocean energy revenues. In its argument for a "dedicated ocean investment fund," the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative cites the success of a tax on seafood imports that pays for fisheries research, as well as the accomplishments of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund in paying for boating-safety programs. "As these trust funds have shown," the report notes, "a smart investment in our oceans can have a very positive impact on our nation."

But Can It Find Car Keys?

A remote-controlled boat designed by a major in the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Department in Louisiana, passed its first test last summer, using sonar to locate a sunken pickup truck, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. The 3-by-6-foot rectangular craft, designed by Major Richard Williams and built by a local welder, is powered by an electric trolling motor and controlled from shore by an iPad. Williams told the Advocate that it was built to search small bodies of water where a full-size boat couldn't operate. The boat is launched from its trailer, and can operate in just inches of water to find, for example, items disposed of after a crime. For its test run, the boat was used to locate a pickup truck that had rolled into Bayou Teche in south central Louisiana (the occupants escaped). The truck was found in minutes, and its location was marked for future retrieval.

Short Tow Is A Big Deal

When TowBoatUS Charlotte Harbor brought Caron Collins and her husband, William safely back to their dock after their 28-foot cruiser broke down, they became BoatUS's 500,000th towing customer. To celebrate, BoatUS gave the Collinses a $500 West Marine gift card, a DeLorme inReach personal satellite communicator, and five years of BoatUS Unlimited Gold on-the-water towing with TRAILER ASSIST Roadside Assistance.

The Collinses became BoatUS members after they were forced to pay $350 out of pocket for a short tow back in 1996, and added an annual "Unlimited" TowBoatUS towing plan. "Anyone who has a boat should have TowBoatUS," said William. "We wouldn't go without it."

Diesel Does It Better And Cheaper

Looking for a new truck or SUV to tow your boat? Consider diesel power. Yes, you'll pay more for the diesel engine option than its gasoline counterpart, but you could be money ahead in the long run, according to a new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. In comparing the costs of owning and driving diesel-powered cars and light trucks currently available in the U.S. market, the study found owners saving from $2,000 to $6,000 over three to five years of ownership. The diesels got far better fuel economy — from eight to 44 percent higher — and held higher resale value, by as much as 46 percent. Total cost of ownership savings also included estimates for repairs, fees and taxes, insurance, and maintenance over the two time periods.

Much of the data covers Volkswagen and Mercedes passenger cars, the major automakers that offer diesel-power options in the U.S. market. The study also compared Ford, GM, and Ram trucks, all of which were three-quarter-ton models, the only size with diesel-engine options currently in the U.S. market. But diesel-powered half-ton trucks and even compact pickups are at least on the automotive rumor circuit, according to Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. He expects the current number of diesel-car and light-truck offerings to increase from 22 models to nearly 50 in the next two years. "Some of that will be pickups, I'm pretty sure," he says. "Virtually all the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have diesel product in other parts of the world but many factors, most of them economics related, are keeping more diesels from the U.S. at the moment. But the 52.5-mpg fuel economy requirements that come in by 2025 are driving many more OEMs to offer diesels to the U.S." (For more on changes to our federal fuel policy, and the EPA's push to add more ethanol to the gasoline market, see "E15: A Good Law, For Yesterday".)  

— Published: October/November 2013

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