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Good Seamanship is the Key To a Safe Boating Season on the Great Lakes

Lake Carrier Assoc   Lake Superior News
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CLEVELAND.OHIO –  May 23, 2018  (LSN)  The Great Lakes are one of America’s busiest waterways.  Each year U.S., Canadian and vessels from throughout the world move upwards of 160 million tons of cargos that drive the North American economy.  The largest vessels, the U.S.-flag 1,000-footers, are almost as long as modern-day aircraft carriers and their power plants are capable of generating nearly 20,000 horsepower.

The Memorial Day Weekend is also traditionally the start of the summer boating season on the Lakes.  Commercial and recreational vessels can co-exist safely, but to do so will require good seamanship by all involved.  “The crews on U.S.-flag ‘lakers’ are all licensed and documented by the U.S. Coast Guard and the skills required to pass Coast Guard exams make them the best mariners in the world,” said Jim Weakley, President of Lake Carriers’ Association, the trade association representing the U.S.-flag fleet.  “We recognize that the Lakes are a shared waterway and want our fellow Americans to enjoy these waters this summer, but safety must be everyone’s top priority.  Even though it’s going just 14 or 15 miles per hour, it can take a laker more than a mile to come to a stop.  In rivers and harbors there is often little room for a laker to alter course.  It is for that reason that the navigation rules always give the right of way to the larger and therefore less maneuverable vessel.”

To make this boating season as safe as possible, Lake Carriers’ Association offers these safety tips.  Most important is that all persons operating a small craft on the Great Lakes should have a working knowledge of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) and the Inland Navigation Rules.  The applicable United States Coast Guard publication is entitled Navigation Rules, International – Inland.  Other safety tips for the summer include:

  • Use VFH Channels 13 and 16 to monitor “security calls” from commercial vessels in the area, but do not contact freighters unless absolutely necessary.  Navigating a laker requires the Captain’s total concentration;
  • Avoid ship channels to the degree possible, and when necessary to cross them, do so as quickly as possible;
  • Know whistle signals: 5 or more blasts mean DANGER;
  • Understand that commercial freighters cannot stop quickly, and often cannot change course in rivers and harbors.  The vessel can only operate in the channel that has been dredged to accommodate its draft (depth to which it sits in the water);
  • Be seen, especially at night.  Display your navigation lights and light your cabin and sails if needed for better visibility.  Great Lakes shipping is a 24/7 industry;
  • Always stay as far away as possible from a freighter’s bow and stern.  Some engines are capable of almost 20,000 horsepower!  The wake and wash from propellers and thrusters can quickly destabilize small craft;
  • Do not moor your boat in a designated safety zone;
  • Do not tie up to another recreational vessel and so “raft” out into the navigation channel;
  • Avoid clustering around a bridge when waiting for it to open for a commercial vessel;
  • Always wear a personal flotation device.

“Good seamanship is the responsibility of all who work and play on the Great Lakes,” said Weakley.  “If the Rules of the Road are uppermost in everyone’s mind, we’ll have a safe summer.”

Since 1880 Lake Carriers’ Association has represented the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet, which today can annually move more than 90 million tons of cargos that are the foundation of American manufacturing, power generation, and construction: iron ore, limestone, coal, cement, and other dry bulk materials such as grain and sand.  In turn, these cargos generate and sustain more than 103,000 jobs in the eight Great Lakes states and have an annual economic impact of more than $20 billion. 

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