BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Edited By Ryck Lydecker

If You Float It, They Will Come

To anyone interested in coastal Louisiana, it's no secret that the state has lost thousands of acres of valuable marshland and critical wetlands habitat to erosion over the years. Most attempts to restore the marshes rely on labor-intensive marsh grass planting that has proven only marginally effective, or expensive dredge-and-fill operations. But a promising new technique is taking root literally in Terrebonne Parish. There, volunteers are using a "floating islands" concept, and it's outperforming all expectations.

Photo of men fishing in a small boatPhoto:

The project, started in September 2011 by the Louisiana Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), uses lightweight slabs of recycled plastic to hold marshgrass plugs, which is like a flat for starting tomato plants. The slabs, or islands, are then towed into place with a small boat and anchored in shallow water, down current from existing natural marsh. The 8- to 10-inch-thick islands, roughly 5 by 8 feet, hold up to 60 plugs. Over time, the plugs grow root systems down into the seafloor. The plants can then begin to trap sediments and eventually this buildup will tie the "island" back into the remaining natural marsh.

CCA members and students from nearby Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary School joined Shell Oil Company employees and members of a local Native American tribe to plant thousands of marsh-grass plugs last fall at four sites around Isle de Jean Charles, an area where just slivers of natural marsh remain due to severe erosion. That project created 195 islands or about 1,560 linear feet of floating marsh. Monitoring since then has found that plants in the islands are healthier and greener than those in the surrounding marsh. In many places the plants, now 3 to 4 feet tall, completely cover the islands and are spreading back toward the adjacent natural marsh as hoped.

The project is one of four Gulf Coast restoration projects undertaken by the CCA Building Conservation Trust with seed money from Shell matched by local dollars, with additional support from businesses and America's Wetland Foundation.

Boat In A Sharkskin Suit?

If you've ever taken a really close look at a shark, you probably had other things on your mind, but the way sharkskin is constructed helps them go faster. Shark scales (right, top), rather than being smooth, have grooves that allow them to slide through the water more efficiently. Competitive swimmers took advantage of that with full-body suits that had tiny grooves based on shark scales.

Sharkskin has another, equally interesting property, though: It's difficult for things to grow on it. That's great for places that run the risk of bacterial contamination, like surfaces in hospitals (including medical devices) and commercial kitchens, and on a somewhat larger scale, it could be great for boat hulls. Surfaces with a sharkskin texture (above, bottom is the man-made replica) could prevent fouling from barnacles and algae by making it difficult for colonies to get started. A company called Sharklet is exploring marine applications with the support of the U.S. Office of Naval Research, and says a recreational boating application could be available in the next few years. For a real-world example of "biomimicry" in action, see our "Innovators" feature for a new low-copper paint that is said to repel barnacles.

Your State Boat, Mon Cher

Lawmakers in the Pelican State voted in May to make the pirogue Louisiana's official state boat. The pirogue (pronounced "pee-rogue," or "pee-row," though there's regional disagreement) is a flat-bottomed canoe, originally made from a dugout cypress log, but is now more commonly constructed plankon- frame, or even made of fiberglass. Today a common hunting boat paddled and poled in shallow bayou backwaters of Cajun country, the pirogue has a long tradition in Louisiana. The first European settlers adapted them from the dugout canoes of the Native Americans; Lewis and Clark used pirogues to cross the Louisiana Territory; and the iconic craft even found its way into the Hank Williams song, "Jambalaya" ("Me gotta go, pole pirogue, down the bayou").

The law means the pirogue can be used as a symbol on official correspondence and this makes Louisiana the fourth state to designate an official type of watercraft. The others are Maryland (skipjack), Virginia (Chesapeake Bay deadrise), and North Carolina (shad boat). A handful of other states designate a specific state vessel, usually "tall ships" such as Californian, a schooner sailing out of San Diego.

Cliff Dodge, of Rayville, Louisiana, championed the designation and traveled the state in a 16-foot cypress pirogue that he built, called Colors. His 2009 trip with his grandson raised money for the charity Kids Wanna Help. In a news report following the bill's passage, its sponsor and Dodge's state representative, Bubba Chaney, said, "I've been told if you don't vote for this and are from south of [Interstate] 10, you would be excommunicated from the Cajun Caucus." The sole vote against it in the house came from the representative from Shreveport, which, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune noted, is "considerably north of I-10." In the senate, the bill passed unanimously. The capable little craft seems to fit right in with Louisiana's official state crustacean, the crawfish.

Rebel Ship Confounds Federals

A Confederate Navy gunboat that never fired a shot is now shooting back at the U.S. Army, by lying in the way of a $653-million channel-deepening project for the Port of Savannah, Georgia. Built in 1862 with money raised by the Ladies Gunboat Association in her namesake state, the CSS Georgia was nothing but trouble for the Confederates. In fact, the ironclad vessel was described later that year as "a splendid failure," and had to keep its pumps working 24 hours a day to stay afloat. In 1864, as General Sherman marched on Savannah, the Georgia was scuttled to prevent it from falling into Union hands. Although the gunboat never saw combat, its sponsoring ladies may take some solace in the fact that their creation is causing headaches for the Union some 150 years later.

Photo of a Confederate Navy gunboat in the Port of Savannah, Georgia channelPhoto: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The wreck, which is listed on the National Historic Register, lies on the bottom of the Savannah River near Fort Jackson on the Georgia side of the river. That puts it in the way of the major multimillion-dollar channel-deepening project that would allow the Port of Savannah to attract the new, larger ships soon to be coming through the expanded Panama Canal. Thus, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now must raise and preserve chunks of the Georgia. The price tag for dealing with the wreck is estimated at $14 million and would include raising and restoring large pieces of the armor plating as well as smaller debris, including several cannons. The Georgia is expected to rise again sometime in 2013.

RV Kelpfly

What do you get when you cross a personal watercraft with an airboat and then float it all on a RIB? A one-of-a-kind research vessel dubbed Kelpfly for its ability to "fly" over kelp beds and even work in the surf zone while mapping California's ultra-shallow inshore seabed. The creation of Dr. Rikk Vitek, who heads the Seafloor Mapping Lab at Cal State, Monterey Bay, Kelpfly is a Yamaha WaveRunner mounted on a custom-built aluminum rigid inflatable hull, and powered, airboat-style, by a paraglider engine and propeller. It's equipped with sophisticated side-scan sonar and other instruments, and the airboat propulsion allows the boat to map right through the floating kelp forests, a previously impossible task because the kelp would plug the WaveRunner's jet drive. It can record geophysical data in as little as 20 inches of water, and its "armored" hull even bounces off rocks. Kelpfly's mother ship is a 46-foot Hatteras sportfisherman donated to the university and extensively equipped for seafloor mapping as well.

An Overripe And Underpriced Banana?

$19.37 That's the price a Wisconsin nonprofit organization paid for an iconic bit of Upper Mississippi River history, the 267-foot dredge William A. Thompson. Known as "the big banana boat" to boaters on the river for her yellow U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' color scheme, for 68 years the Thompson maintained 850 miles of the river until it was retired in 2008, at Fountain City, Wisconsin. Lying at its new home 100 miles downriver at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, since mid-June, the cutterhead dredge could become a museum or an environmental learning center while undergoing restoration.

The Thompson could cut a channel 28 feet deep and 350 feet wide in a single "mooring." She carried 8,000 feet of floating dredge pipe and could dredge 1,000 cubic yards per hour. Over the years she handled about 2 million yards of dredged material annually. And the sale price? That's the year of the William A. Thompson's first roll on the river.

Chart Cat Commissioned

In a move that should help NOAA alleviate its acute nautical charting backlog, the agency commissioned a state-of-theart coastal mapping vessel at its fleet headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, June 8. The 124-foot, twin-hulled ship named Ferdinand R. Hassler is used to conduct basic hydrographic surveys of the seafloor using high-resolution side-scan and multibeam sonar. With its 60-foot beam, Hassler is also equipped to deploy research buoys, operate unmanned submersibles, and conduct general oceanographic research.

Photo of the 124-foot, twin-hulled ship named Ferdinand R. Hassler Photo: NOAA

The first of its kind to be constructed for NOAA, the ship's SWATH design, for Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull, improves stability and seakeeping ability, making it particularly suited to mapping the ocean floor. Hassler will operate mainly along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Caribbean, and Great Lakes, acquiring data necessary to produce nautical charts. The ship can also search for submerged hazards to navigation, following hurricanes and other emergencies, and be used for habitat mapping and marine archaeology.

The U.S. has more than 3 million square nautical miles of coastal ocean floor in a constant state of change, according to NOAA. The agency's hydrographic survey backlog defines roughly 14,000 square miles as "critical" but the agency has only enough money to survey about 3,000 miles annually. Charts of some areas still show soundings taken 70 years ago, or even earlier, by lead line, a familiar technique used by the ship's namesake Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler (1770-1843), the founding superintendent of the Coast Survey, precursor to NOAA. Hassler's home port is New Castle, New Hampshire.

Rescue 21

The Coast Guard's advanced communications and rescue system moved closer to complete coverage of U.S. waters when service began covering Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in late May. Called Rescue 21, the advanced directionfinding and digital technology system allows Coast Guard personnel to zero-in quickly on distressed vessels out to at least 20 miles from shore. The new system, which now covers more than 41,700 miles of the U.S. coast, is revolutionizing rescue efforts. It replaces 1970s-era technology, and features much stronger radio-signal capability, enhanced direction finding, instant radio broadcast playback, and better-integrated communication with non-Coast Guard first-responder and rescue agencies. It also features mobile emergency backup systems that proved critical during Hurricane Katrina. The Rescue 21 system enables boats with a DSC radio that is properly connected to a GPS unit to send a mayday call instantly. One touch of a button broadcasts an encoded distress signal, and the radio will continue sending it even if the skipper is incapacitated. In addition, if the boat has a Marine Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number registered with the Coast Guard, the system will log the boat's actual position automatically and even display its name, type, length, color, and the owner's emergency contact information to rescuers.

Photo of the U.S. Coast Guard's advanced communications and rescue system Photo: General Dynamics

BoatUS operates a free MMSI registry service for DSC radios with the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard reports that many DSC radios on recreational boats are not properly wired to their GPS units and thus are not fully compatible with the Rescue 21 system. To learn more, register your radio, or take a free seven-part online DSC radio tutorial, go to (Boaters already registered should visit the site and update records if contact information or vessel changes.)

Boat Sales Change Course

Chart of Recreational Boats By User Type

After Nearly six years of decline, boat sales changed course in 2011, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). Retail new boat sales climbed six percent last year, reaching $32.3 billion, according to the trade group's annual Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract for 2011. Small aluminum powerboats, primarily fishing and pontoon boats, led the way with 77,150 sold, a four-percent increase over 2010. Even more encouraging, boating participation increased by 10 percent, to 83 million people who spent at least one day on the water last year. That marks the largest proportion of adults who went boating since 1997. Report data also show that small boats continue to predominate, with 95 percent of the nation's 12.4 million registered boats measuring 26 feet and under.

Strong Grassroots Lobbying Helps California Boaters

Although California's independent Department of Boating and Waterways didn't survive a government reorganization plan, thanks to a strong grassroots lobbying effort, the state still has its Boating and Waterways Commission to stand watch for boaters' interests. The reorganization plan would have eliminated the commission while folding the department, known simply as Cal Boating, into the state's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Photo of San Diego HarborPhoto: San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau

To the Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) that meant the agency that has administered boater-generated funds for decades could lose its focus and those monies could be redirected to non-boating uses. And its Boating and Waterways Commission would no longer provide oversight to the state's boating infrastructure grants and other programs that boaters support with gasoline tax payments and other boating fees. At least four times in the past, and under two former governors, RBOC successfully defended Cal Boating from similar proposals. Again this time RBOC steadfastly opposed the plan, but once it became apparent that the prevailing political climate meant that the governor would win, the boaters' group changed strategy. "We knew that this time nobody was going to stop Governor Brown's plan, so we decided to pursue the best legislative fix we could devise with two key provisions," reports RBOC President Cleve Hardaker. "First, the boating commission would have to be reestablished within parks, and second, a seat representing boating interests must be added to the State Parks and Recreation Commission."

RBOC worked closely with California boating industry groups as well as BoatUS to gain support for the proposal, and once they found lawmakers willing to author a bill, it enjoyed bipartisan support. In fact, the bill passed both houses of the California Legislature unanimously and the governor signed it into law July 17. Even more significant, the law does not go into effect until July 3, 2013, giving RBOC time to monitor implementation, Hardaker says. "Once again, we see that boating can be an easy target at the state government level unless boaters are organized and ready to protect their interests," says BoatUS President Margaret Podlich. For tips on forming a boating advocacy organization, visit:

— Published: October/November 2012

ICW Strategy Sessions

Map of the East Coast of the United States

As thousands of snowbirds head south by boat via the Intracoastal Waterway this fall, carefully consulting tide charts to avoid dangerous channel shoaling, a group of ICW advocates will gather in Charleston, SC , to lay out another kind of course, one that could ensure the future of the historic waterway. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association will convene its 13th annual meeting at Charleston's Francis Marion Hotel, November 13-14, to address navigation along the 1,100- mile route, updates on problem shoaling areas, and long-term solutions to chronic federal funding shortages for dredging and maintaining the waterway. BoatUS is a charter member of the association. For registration info:



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