BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Edited by Chris Landers

Miller Seeks Great Lakes Separation

A bill introduced this year in the U.S. House of Representatives could protect the Great Lakes from invasive carp, but end the Great Loop cruising route as we know it. In early March 2014, the chairwoman of the Congressional Boating Caucus and former Michigan boat dealer, Candice Miller, introduced a bill that seeks to prevent the further spread of invasive species or aquatic nuisance species (ANS). The proposal would give the Army Corps of Engineers the authority to design and construct a physical barrier between the Great Lakes and the Illinois River at the base of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Photo of Navy Pier ChicagoChicago's Navy Pier, on the shore of Lake Michigan, may soon be cut off from the Mississippi River. (Photo: IL Office Of Tourism)

At an estimated $16 billion, the project is the highest priced of the eight alternatives proposed in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) released in early 2014. In a recent press release, Miller said this is a small price to pay if the Great Lakes fishing economy is saved.

"For me, as a lifelong boater who grew up on the Great Lakes, spending time on the water is a way of life," Miller said. "I know how important recreational and commercial boating is to our economic and social vitality. I also know the havoc Asian carp will wreak on our delicate ecosystem and fishing industry if we let them invade our lakes, which is why I have introduced legislation to completely separate the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes."

In January of 2014, the Army Corps of Engineers released the long-awaited GLMRIS, which looked at alternatives for addressing nuisance species spreading between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. The study proposed eight options that ranged from doing nothing to constructing physical barriers between the watersheds. Miller's bill calls for separation and the building of barriers, the most costly of the suggested actions. "When you talk about the hydraulic separation of these waterways, it is very serious. This would end Great Loop cruising as we know it, as well as create major economic impact to the cargo shipping that keeps many of these river and lakeside communities alive," said David Kennedy of BoatUS Government Affairs. "Although we hope this bill will reengage Congress to take a serious look at ANS, we aren't convinced physical barriers are the only way to address the problem."

Boaters Seek Solitude, Restrooms

Boaters don't have a problem getting to the water, according to a survey released in May by a coalition of boating-access groups, including BoatUS, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and States Organization For Boating Access. Once we're there, though, other boaters can be a pain. In a survey of boaters around the country, the vast majority (81 percent) said that issues related to access didn't prevent them from going boating. While boaters seemed happy with the locations of existing facilities, 70 percent of those surveyed said maintenance of those facilities was extremely important, while only 23 percent rated building new facilities as similarly important.

When respondents were asked about problems at boating-access facilities, though, fellow boaters ranked high on the list. More than half the people surveyed said a lack of knowledge on the part of others was a top problem, and crowding at ramps came in second on the list (43 percent). Environmental concerns were in the third-place slot (38 percent), closely followed by lack of facilities (restrooms and pump-out stations).

Maybe The Future Isn't In Plastics After All?

Exfoliating face creams may be great for your skin, but they're wreaking havoc with the water, according to environmental groups working in the Great Lakes area. Microbeads — tiny plastic particles found in facial scrubs, shampoos, soaps, and other cosmetic products — are small enough to pass through water treatment systems and don't biodegrade, leaving them free to float around for centuries. In 2012, researchers from the 5 Gyres Institute tested the waters of Lakes Huron, Superior, and Erie. Using a fine-mesh net, they found tens of thousands of plastic particles, including a sample from Lake Erie that contained the highest concentration the group found in any lake or ocean.

The plastics absorb pollutants, and because the small beads resemble tiny fish eggs, they are often mistaken for food by marine animals and work their way into the food chain. Several manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop, have agreed to discontinue the use of microbeads by 2015, and some states are taking action as well. In June, the Illinois legislature voted to make that state the first to ban the sale of products containing microbeads, with other states, including California and New York, set to follow suit.

Cosmetics aren't the only source of microbeads, which have been found in large concentrations around the world, in gyres where debris collects. Plastic bags and other pieces of plastic are also eventually broken down by UV rays into smaller and smaller fragments. The research says targeting the ready-made microbeads makes sense because they have an identifiable manufacturer and because there are other alternatives — like apricot shells and cocoa beans — that don't have the detrimental effects of microplastics. The Netherlands-based Plastic Soup Foundation has released an app called "Beat The Microbeads" to identify products that contain the plastics by scanning the barcode, or looking for the words "polyethylene" or "polypropylene" in the ingredients list.

City Of Chester Found In San Francisco Bay

On a foggy morning in August 1888, the SS City of Chester collided with the much larger Oceanic (near what is now San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge) and sank along with 13 passengers and three crew members. That was the last anyone saw of the 202-foot iron and wood steamship, at least until earlier this year when it was discovered by NOAA's Office of Coast Survey. A survey crew, working from historical records, located the wreck in 216 feet of water just inside the Golden Gate.

Photos of the City of Chester then and nowThe City of Chester in its heyday and today in sonar profile. (Photos: NOAA Office Of Coast Survey, San Francisco Maritime National Heritage Park)

The incident played a role in Chinese-American history, according to James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Playing to the racism of the time, newspapers initially speculated that the Chinese crew of the Oceanic refused to rescue the drowning passengers. Later, stories of heroic rescues emerged, including that of one crew member who plunged into the water to save a drowning child.

"Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events," Delgado said, "in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea." An exhibit about the SS City of Chester is being planned at the Gulf of the Farallones headquarters in San Francisco.

Lake Mess Monster

No one quite remembers who christened it the Lake Mess Monster, least of all its current captain and Prospect Park Alliance employee Martin Woess. Unlike its Scottish namesake, there's nothing elusive about this New York City beast. "It's 28 feet long, it's like a cross between a paddle steamer and a harvester," Woess explains in his thick East End London accent. "It's a very loud diesel engine, and it's amazing." With that kind of size and scream, the odd-looking green Monster always gathers a crowd when Woess takes it out for a weekly eight- to nine-hour spin on Brooklyn's Prospect Park Lake. Harvesting garbage and duckweed from the murky depths makes the Monster vital to the lake's health. Duckweed, tasty food for ducks in small doses, goes nuts on the potassium-rich New York City tap water that continuously feeds the Lake. Gorged on potassium, duckweed spreads thickly and sucks up the lake's oxygen; after it dies and putrefies, the muck turns water toxic. "Then it's a problem for all the fish and plants that inhabit the lake," Woess says. But it's not all paper, plastic tumbleweeds, and floating soda bottles. Woess says the Monster once scraped up the remains of a nationally known TV personality. "It was a 3-foot-tall Elmo doll," he says. "Of all the kinds of stuff that comes out, that had to be the funniest."

Sea Scouts — Galveston

The Sea Scout Base Galveston, a $100 million Sea Scout center, began holding events this summer, in advance of a fall grand opening. The new facility on the shores of Offatts Bayou will solidify the island as an educational and recreational boating destination for the next generations of boaters. Originally conceived as a camp and high-adventure facility for the Sea Scouts, the scope of the project has broadened to include a community youth sailing center and a maritime-education facility for merchant-mariner students and others. Financed almost entirely by a private donor, who is very active in the Sea Scouting programs, the 60,000-square-foot facility, which includes lodging, offices, classrooms, and a cafeteria, is adjacent to already constructed floating docks and piers. The complex will be capable of hosting 200-300 scouts on a weekly basis. The estimated total cost for the facility, programs, and endowment approaches $100 million.

Already home to a fleet of two- to four-person sailboats and an 82-foot Coast Guard cutter converted to a functioning on-the-water classroom, the sea base will eventually add a variety of vessels ranging from kayaks to schooners, with the goal of emphasizing sailing instruction, seamanship, navigation, and high adventure. The programs are expected to draw more than 20,000 scouts a year from throughout the country and have already hosted scouting programs from Louisiana, Missouri, and throughout Texas.

Swimming Tips For Boaters

Make sure a great day aboard stays that way by keeping swimming children secure in the water. The United States Swim School Association (USSSA) has put together guidelines to help keep children safe while boating this summer.

Photo of swimming off of a boatPhoto: Billy Black

  • Make sure your children know how to properly wear a life jacket. And always have children under 13 wear a life jacket at all times when boating or using personal watercraft.
  • Life jackets should always be U.S. Coast Guard approved. Never substitute water wings or other recreational-type floating toys for an approved life jacket.
  • Create a water safety plan for your family and have water emergency drills with your kids covering how to recognize the signs of someone struggling in water, and what to do in this type of emergency.
  • Never let your children swim off a dock in a marina. Not only is there a risk from boats maneuvering, but there may also be the risk of electric shock drowning or electrocution due to current in the water. Swimmers should stay at least 100 yards away from electrified docks.
  • Teach your children the "throw, don't go" rescue method. Instead of entering the water to help a struggling person, teach your child to throw in a rope or reach with a stick, paddle, or other object to pull the person in.
  • If you take your kids on a shore excursion while boating, be aware of tides and currents and other risks the ocean or beach may have.
  • Non-motorized boats can also pose a risk. If your family is canoeing or kayaking, be sure your child is wearing a life jacket and knows what to do if the boat flips.
  • If your child is playing near a natural body of water and accidentally falls in, teach your child to roll over on his or her back, and float until help arrives if exiting the water is not an option.
  • Never use flotation devices or water wings to keep your child safe in the water. Rely on your direct supervision.
  • Swimming lessons are a great addition to help keep your child safer while boating and around open water. For more information about swimming lessons and water safety and to find a United States Swim School Association member swim school near you, visit:

E15 Now Lurking In 13 States

With boating season in full swing, the threat of filling up your boat with unfriendly fuels is spreading. In May, Missouri began allowing the sale of E15 fuel at gas stations, joining 12 other states where the mixture is sold. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, there are now 59 gas stations in the country selling gasoline with 15-percent ethanol. The danger in using this fuel in your marine engines is twofold: in these higher blends with corn-ethanol, the ethanol molecules tend to separate and bind to water, causing engine failure. These fuels also burn hotter than regular gasoline and void warranties. Currently, there isn't a single marine engine warrantied to run on E15.

Higher blends of ethanol gas are also usually cheaper at the pump so be careful to take a good long "peek at the pump" before selecting fuel for your boat. The following states are now selling E15: Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. For a complete list of cities selling E15, go to

Welcome To Uget Sound. Notice There's No "P" In It?

The Washington State Department of Ecology has proposed turning Puget Sound into a No-Discharge Zone. Boats in the zone wouldn't be allowed to discharge treated sewage, although gray water from sinks and showers wouldn't be affected by the rule. The department says that the sound is prone to water-quality problems, such as fecal coliform bacteria and low-dissolved oxygen, which can affect the shellfish and aquatic life. Local boaters are upset, claiming most of the damage to the water quality is coming from city waste facilities that are chronically failing and overflowing in the winter months, dumping large amounts of untreated waste directly into the sound.

Proposed no discharge zones map for Puget SoundVessel sewage is just one of a number of pollutant sources to Puget Sound that the
Department of Ecology is addressing. BoatUS will publish any EPA comment-period
information on so members can voice their opinions on the proposal. (Photo: Washington Dept. Of Ecology)

"The various municipalities around Puget Sound consistently have large discharges both into Puget Sound and the lakes they border on," said Puget Sound boater Thomas Aydelotte. "Some of them annually report billions of gallons of untreated effluent discharge. The focus should be upon these culprits to our water quality and not the recreational users who depend on clean water for their enjoyment. Department of Ecology policies should be based on sound scientific evidence and not conjecture."

There are 38 sewer outputs or combined sewer overflows operated by King County, and the Seattle Public Utilities Commission reports that more than 154 million gallons of raw sewage and storm water spilled into Seattle's creeks, lakes, the Ship Canal, the Duwamish River, and Elliott Bay in 2012. 

— Published: August/September 2014

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