Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frogma List #1 of Tillerman Group Writing Project "Lists": Gear A Sea Kayaker Needs to Pass A CG Auxiliary Safety Inspection

UPDATE JUNE 2015: I am adding this update because this post suddenly seems to be seeing some activity and there's been an excellent change in the Vessel Safety Check world since I wrote this in 2009. At that time, vessel safety checks on human-powered vessels were performed using the same form as any recreational vessel, and down towards the end of the post, I refer to things that were on the form that weren't relevant to paddlecraft (engine requirements and such) and also things that weren't on the form that a kayaker should have. Well, the ACA saw what was going on there and went to work with the CG Auxiliary to fix it and in 2011 I was absolutely tickled to see the first Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check Form. The actual requirements are clearly stated, the non-relevant things are gone, and there's a list of suggested stuff that's so good that I've used the form as a handout in classes. Click here to view .

Ah, doesn't 2009 royal blue look nice on that banana-yellow deck? Matches my decklines too!

Annual safety inspections aren't a legal requirement for kayaks, but this year and last year, I've taken advantage of the free public service provided at Sebago's Opening Day (and this year at our Dock Dedication in April) by some of the members of the neighboring Midget Squadron Yacht Club (a club that's also playing a very important & very appreciated role in our upcoming Laser regatta, providing motorboat support). These folks are volunteers in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and every year they come to one or two of our big public events and do official safety inspections for anyone that wants one. Both years, I've passed even though I didn't particularly go to the club thinking "Ooh, safety inspection today, better make sure I've got all my stuff". Not being in the nanny business (thank goodness), the Coast Guard's safety requirements for kayaks are pretty much a bare minimum. Things you'd just be pretty dense to be out kayaking without anyways.

Now it happens that I'd been thinking about writing a short post about my Vessel Safety Check, but I wasn't sure how to approach it. But then I saw Tillerman's latest Group Writing Project.


He's challenged us to write posts that are lists.

Well, your basic Vessel Safety Check is all ABOUT a list. The examiner has a list of requirements in hand. If you get checked off as having the right stuff for your kind of boat, you get your sticker.

The trick, for a kayaker, is looking at the list of federal requirements & sorting out what applies to a kayak, and what doesn't.

So although I might do another list or two (I had some more entertaining ideas than this one), I thought "What a kayaker needs to pass a Vessel Safety Check" would be a perfect topic. It's a useful list, I just did mine recently so it's pretty fresh in my mind, so I'll start with that.

Please note that this is something of a condensed version. Check out the USCG Boating Safety site for a much more complete version. Also be aware that these are the FEDERAL requirements - state by state requirements vary, best thing is to get your hands on a copy of your state's boating regulations (I know for a fact that NY & CT both have nice little booklets that are available for free at most clubs, outfitters, and marine supply stores & somehow I suspect that's true of most of your states with actual coastlines).

On with the list!

Required Item #1. A Personal Flotation Device. Of course! Must be CG approved for the use to which it's being put (Type III is the right sort for sea kayaking), in good condition (no innards showing through splitting seams, all your straps & buckles & zippers securely attached & functioning) and properly fitted.

Required Item #2. Visual Distress Signals: Required on any vessel operating in waters more than 2 miles wide. Human-powered vessels are exempt from carrying day signals but we have to carry night signals. Full details here. VERY worth a read. If you are using flares like most kayakers, be aware that flares have an expiration date & your inspector WILL look at that. Old flares have a higher chance of being duds.

BTW I am going to do a short post about Orion Skyblazers VERY soon, those are the flare of choice for most sea kayakers, there was a safety-issue driven product freeze last year & I have just found some information that absolutely, positively deserves it's own separate post.

Required Item #3: Sound producing device. Most people I know (including me) just have a whistle on a lanyard permanently attached to the flap of one of their lifejacket pockets. My friend Stevie has a StowMaster horn, which is a funny little thing that looks like a stubby little pipe:
Makes a big loud noise! He was behind me one time on a paddle & he blew that thing for some reason. I almost jumped out of my kayak 'cause I thought that somehow a big boat had materialized right behind us without my ever spotting it (and I'm usually pretty sharp about being aware of boats in my vicinity)! Your examiner will be perfectly happy with the standard safety whistles you can buy at any boating supply store, but there are other, louder options that might be nice if you paddle someplace with a lot of fog or something.

Required Item #4: Navigation Lights: Kayaks are only required to carry "a flashlight or lighted lantern that can show a white light in sufficient time to prevent collision." I do have to say, though, that the auxiliary folks who've examined my boat & kit have been very happy to see that I carry lights closer to the sailboat plan. See full details in the navigation regulation section of the Boating Safety page.

Required Item #5: Boat condition: Your examiner will look your boat over to make sure that it's well-maintained & in good shape. Repaired damage is fine (I have a fiberglass patch on the bottom of my boat where I got driven onto a piling & holed doing kayak support for a swim race one time, that hardly gets a second glance); cracks, holes, or other obvious, unrepaired damage won't pass. Your boat has to meet state & local safety requirements too - generally for kayaks, I don't think that's going to be much beyond the well-maintained condition that the examiner's going to look for anyways, but again, it's worth getting a boating regs booklet for your own state & looking that over just to be sure.

And rather amazingly, that's pretty much the minimum REQUIRED stuff for kayaks. I always liked the simplicity of kayaking. How's this for simple?:

Visual Distress Signals
Lights (at least one white light)
Whistle or horn
Boat in good condition.

So simple, it's practically Amish.

Of course, there is a second category of stuff. These are items that your examiner will be quite pleased to see, but aren't required. Nice thing is, the "recommended items" list, pared down to the kayak-relevant subset I've been asked about at my two VSC's, are very standard components of the average educated sea kayaker's kit: A VHF, a first aid kit, and a pump.

They'll also ask about boating safety classes. As kayakers, most of us haven't taken offical CG Auxiliary-run safety classes, but if you've taken classes from a legitimate club or kayaking school, that does count.

Now - that's all I've been asked for in either of my Vessel Safety Checks, but there are a FEW more items I see on the full checklist that an examiner could theoretically ask about, and even if they don't, are good things to think of for your own boating safety. You can see the full list here.

A lot of the list is just obviously not applicable to kayaks. Then there are things that could change from state to state, like display of numbers & documentation - those don't apply here in NY (although my examiner did make a note of my hull identification number), but I don't know if that's true of the other 49 states.

The interesting thing I'm noticing on that list, though, looking closely, is that there are a few items on there that my examiners didn't ask me about either time, but they could have - nautical charts & navigation aids, float plan filing and weather and sea condition, and survival & first aid ALL jump out at me as items I didn't get asked about, but are as relevant to kayakers as they are to any other recreational boater.

They may've just figured I was obviously a responsible, well-equipped, well-trained paddler & that they'd seen enough to give me my sticker & move on to the next boat, but if they'd had more time, or I'd been iffy on other stuff, they definitely could've kept going on me. And I suspect that how many questions get asked has a lot to do with the individual examiner's personal preferences, too.

But getting the kayak-relevant basic requirements, plus a few of the recommendeds, isn't too hard.

Just don't forget - you'll need quite a bit more stuff to make your friendly neighborhood ACA or BCU instructor happy!

Next day addendum - The comments are quite worth checking out today - Carol Anne of It's Five O'Clock Somewhere checked in with some specific examples of things she, a sailor in New Mexico, would be required to produce at a Vessel Safety Check in her state that I, a New York State paddler, was not required to produce in mine. I almost chickened out of writing this post because of those state-by-state differences - I was worried about somebody reading my New York list & not realizing that they might have additonal requirements, but then I figured if I just said clearly, "Hey, these things vary from state to state" that would be fine. So I did, and left it at that, but I really enjoyed seeing some specific examples from another state. Thanks, Carol Anne!

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