BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Crowd Safety On The Water

Few things are more enjoyable than being out on the water to watch a special event, but when it's over, it may be dark, and there'll certainly be lots of other boats all trying to get home at the same time. Here's how to make sure that your summer outing stays fun from start to finish:

Photo of fireworks over the waterPhoto: Thinkstock

Manage the guest list. An overloaded boat doesn't handle well, and when this gets combined with washing machine-style wakes generated by a pack of boats making their getaways, it can lead to swamping or capsizing. Be mindful of your boat's capacity, keep extra people off the flybridge, and have a properly fitted life jacket for everyone aboard. For more information, see "Boat Capacity Tips".

Check your navigation lights. In the dark, the only way for another boater to determine your boat's direction is by tracking your navigation lights. Fix any broken lights before you go, and make sure that nothing blocks any part of the arc of the light. If your boat has a combination bow light, check that the lens hasn't been reversed during installation. Make sure you're showing red on port and green on starboard.

Don't paddle your own canoe. Standup paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes are great — but not in the middle of a crowd of boats after dark.

Boat responsibly. Wait until after you've tied up for the night before consuming alcohol. Operating a boat while under the influence is illegal, and in some states it could cost you your car driver's license, or worse.

Fuel-Dock Dilemmas

When the fuel dock in Avalon Harbor on California's Catalina Island (below), was significantly damaged during a storm surge from Hurricane Marie last year, many expressed concern at keeping it open. In welcome news for Catalina Island boating fans, the Avalon City Council, which operates the dock, recently agreed to pursue an engineering study to see if short-term repairs are viable.

Photo of Avalon Harbor Catalina Island CaliforniaPhoto: Thinkstock

Catalina Island is one of California's biggest boating draws, but it's 25-plus miles offshore, and if you're going by powerboat, chances are you might want fuel at some stage. That's where the problem arises. There are only two fuel docks on the island: one at Two Harbors and the other in Avalon Harbor. An estimated 20,000 transient boaters stop in Avalon Harbor each year.

False Mayday Fines Doubled

When funding for the U.S. Coast Guard was finally passed in the waning days of the 113th Congress last December, a few items of note for recreational boaters were included. Fines for making false distress calls were raised from $5,000 to $10,000, and the Coast Guard was directed to assess and report on the coordination of search-and-rescue agreements with local 911 centers. A freeze on decommissioning Loran infrastructure for one year was included in the bill, until the Coast Guard can report on whether it might still be needed to provide position, navigation, or timing information as a backup to GPS. The funding legislation for the Coast Guard, known as reauthorization, was approved only for the current year; BoatUS anticipates another reauthorization bill in 2015.


Michigan Visitors Pay Less To Fish

Boaters visiting Michigan to fish this season will enjoy a 10-percent drop in the price of annual non-resident fishing licenses. On March 1, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reduced the cost of an annual non-resident fishing license from $76 to $68. The change was prompted by feedback from visiting anglers and local businesses, who suggested that discounting the annual license fee charged to out-of-state visitors would make it more attractive for them to visit the Wolverine State.

Congress Introduces New Ethanol Bills

In early spring, bills were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate that would reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the 2005 energy policy that mandates annual increases of the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended into our gasoline. Due to a decrease in U.S. gasoline consumption, the out-of-date RFS policy now forces higher blends of corn-ethanol into the marketplace, which are not compatible with marine engines, motorcycles, snowmobiles, or small engines like lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, and leaf blowers.

When the bills, H.R. 704 and S. 577, were introduced, BoatUS served on a panel calling for reform of the RFS, and expressing concern on the dangers of higher-blend ethanol.

"The panel was a good chance to educate Capitol Hill staff on how the RFS has impacted the consumer, particularly boat owners who can accidentally fill up with these higher blends," said David Kennedy, manager of BoatUS Government Affairs. Fuel with up to 15 percent ethanol is now being offered at more than 100 gas stations in 17 states, at the same blender pumps as fuel that is safe for boats. "Until we reform this mandate," added Kennedy, "boaters who fill up at roadside gas stations need to be aware of the danger of filling up with the wrong blend." Currently, marine engines are warranted to run on no more than 10 percent ethanol.

BoatUS alerted you to the introduction of these bills earlier this year and asked for you to reach out to your members of Congress for support. Due to your help, we were able to generate almost 11,500 letters of support, and we have received a great response from many Hill offices. Thank you for your support.

If you have yet to take an action on these bills, you can find the alert at For more information on Ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard, go to

Value: $13,750. Why?

John Jr. and Caroline Kennedy's childhood sailboat, Scallop, a 12-foot-long Beetle Cat built in 1969, recently sold at auction for $13,750 to an Asian investment firm. The boat was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and shipped to Greece when the family lived there, where it remained for several years before being returned to the United States. When Scallop was stripped down to bare wood for restoration, the original paint scheme was revealed, so the boat once again sports its first colors. Those colors were verified in a letter from Caroline Kennedy, who said that the unusual color scheme was similar to those found on a Greek fishing boat.

Ghost Of Water Past

While we swing into full boating season throughout the United States, spare a thought for some of our western neighbors who are facing huge water shortages.

Photo of Folsom Lake Marina, northeast of Sacramento, California shows the severe drought conditionsPhoto: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

In an undated, but hauntingly beautiful photo from Folsom Lake Marina, northeast of Sacramento, California, the severe drought conditions show 600 empty docks sitting on dry, cracked dirt.

In April, California Governor Jerry Brown ordered mandatory water reductions for the first time in the state's history, saying their four-year drought had reached near-crisis proportions after a winter of record-low snowfalls.

Happy Birthday, USCG!

The U.S. Coast Guard celebrates its 225th birthday in August, and to help mark the occasion, the U.S. Postal Service — itself celebrating 240 years since Benjamin Franklin was made Postmaster — is issuing a special commemorative stamp. The USCG's story began in 1790, when George Washington signed into law an act that provided for a fleet of 10 vessels to serve as an armed customs-enforcement service. Maritime smuggling was depriving the country of badly needed tariff revenue, and the small fleet eventually became known as the Revenue Cutter Service. It merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to become the present day Coast Guard on January 28, 1915. The stamps will be launched on August 4 in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the Coast Guard's challenged beginnings, see "The Real McCoy".

That's A Lot Of Fish To Fry

Italian fisherman Dino Ferrari may have set a record for the largest wels catfish taken by rod and reel when he caught this 280-pounder on the Po River delta, in northern Italy. It took him 40 minutes to bring the 9-foot fish to the boat. After taking photos, he and his twin brother Dario released it, hoping to best their own record by catching it again next year.

Seasick Genes?

Your genes determine whether your eyes are brown, blue, or green — and maybe whether you turn green on deck as well. The genetics company 23andMe, makers of popular home genetic-testing kits, recently conducted a study that may shed light on why some of us are more susceptible to mal de mer than others. It's thought that seasickness, a kind of motion sickness experienced on the water, is caused by our eyes and inner ears sending conflicting information to our brain. Your inner ear feels you rolling side to side in a beam sea, but your eyes see you standing relatively level with the deck. An alternative theory suggests that while standing, we're constantly making tiny, almost imperceptible, corrections to our posture to keep our balance, even on flat ground. Vigorous and unpredictable motion, such as we experience when aboard a boat in rough seas, disrupts these corrections and leads to our queasiness.

Unintentional chumming aside, the research did find associations between genes that govern eye and ear development as well as balance and susceptibility to seasickness. Variations in these genes may explain why some of us are more prone than others. Still, if you're the type that turns green in anything more than a gentle breeze, there may be a ray of hope on the horizon: you could grow out of it. Motion sickness is less common in people over 50, possibly because our inner-ear function decreases as we age.

Dive Camera Made Easy

SeaLife has introduced what it says is the world's first permanently sealed waterproof camera, the Micro HD, which shoots above or below the water and is guaranteed not to leak for the life of the camera. Available in 16GB or 32GB versions, it can shoot both 1080p video or 13MP stills. Just three large buttons control all functions through an intuitive menu, so it's easy to use even when you're wearing dive gloves. The permanently sealed battery offers three hours of continuous use, and you can charge the battery while the camera is still wet. From $399 |

Great Lakes & Nearby Waterways Rising

While the West is experiencing water shortages (see story above) there is some better news coming from the Great Lakes region. Following a record low-water mark in January 2013, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have recovered more than two and a half feet and are now only four inches below their long-term average.

Photo of the scenic Great LakesPhoto: Thinkstock

That rise is a boost to boaters cruising inland waterways connected to the Great Lakes. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the prediction for the first half of the 2015 boating season is for water levels to remain above those seen in the 2014 season.

The Great Lakes previously reached record lows in the 1960s, and their high-water marks were reached in the 1970s.

Fire Extinguisher Recall

Nearly 5 million Kidde fire extinguishers are being recalled because a defective plastic valve can fail when a user repeatedly presses and releases the lever during efforts to put out a fire. The 31 different models of the disposable extinguishers, which aren't made to be refilled, were sold between August 2013 and November 2014 for $18 to $65 at stores including Home Depot and Walmart and at marine chandleries. One model, the XL 5MR, retailed for $200. The company is recalling the extinguishers, sold in the United States and Canada, after receiving 11 reports of them failing to work properly. If you have one of the defective fire extinguishers, contact Kidde to get a free replacement. You'll need to know your serial and model number (see illustration below).

Fire extinguisher illustration

A History Beneath The History

Washington, D.C., is steeped in history, but did you know that just 30 miles south of the capitol, under the shallow waters of the Potomac River, lies the largest collection of shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere? More than 200 boats and ships have found their final resting places in Mallows Bay, on the Maryland side of the river. The vessels range from a Revolutionary War-era longboat to a late-20th-century car ferry. But the lion's share of the wrecks are World War I merchant ships.

Photo of a shipwreck in Mallows BayPhoto: Joel Kinison

In 1917, the United States embarked on an ambitious plan to build 1,000 wood steamships in 18 months for transporting supplies to Europe. The war ended before many of the ships were deployed, and newer building methods quickly made them obsolete. The government sold 233 of the ships to the Western Marine & Salvage Company, which eventually brought the fleet to Mallows Bay to salvage the scrap metal and sink the wood hulls. Over the years, more ships joined the wrecked fleet. Maryland documented the shipwrecks in the 1990s, identifying 88 World War I-era wood ships, 12 barges, and several 19th-century log canoes and schooners, among other wrecks.

Happily, this boat graveyard has turned into an environmental haven of ship-shaped reefs and islands that are home to many fish and birds. Mallows Bay Park, in Charles County, Maryland, has a public boat ramp and kayak launch. While some of the wrecks can be seen by powerboat using the channel through Mallows Bay, the majority, with their hulls of rotting wood and steel spikes at times breaking the surface of the water, are best explored by paddle power from your kayak or canoe.

Full House

California sea lions are turning up in all sorts of unexpected places this season as food scarcity in their normal range drives them farther up the West Coast. Officials in Astoria, Oregon, on the Columbia River, have counted more than 2,300 sea lions so far this year, 10 times the average number on the docks in the East Mooring Basin and nearly a thousand more than last year's record-breaking count of 1,420.

Photo of California sea lionsPhoto: Theresa Tillson, Oregon Dept. Fish and Wildlife

Here they pile up on a dock, and each other, as they fight for space. Officials have also tallied more than 6,000 harbor seals at the mouth of the Columbia.

For tips on how to stop sea lions getting on your boat, see "Pest Control Tips For Boaters". Sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which outlaws their hunting, killing, capture, and harassment  


— Published: June/July 2015

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