Sunday, April 21, 2013

Coast Guard Safety Check

Passed first time! Pasting this year's sticker over last year's, at the base of the mast.
We do this every spring, the voluntary Coast Guard safety check.  Some of the things they look at seem more administrative than practical for a boat our size - checking our paperwork and current registration, of course, although the placards reminding us not to dump trash or oil at sea seem superfluous on a boat for two.  They checked our nav lights (all working properly, though they couldn't verify the anchor light at the top of the mast because it has a photosensor that turns it off in daylight hours), life jackets, air horn, emergency flares, fire extinguishers.   Every year we seem to learn at least one new fact from the visit, whether its because rules change, or because each examiner has a slightly different take on what's important.

It was easy and somewhat chit-chat; we know the drill and had all the paperwork ready.  It was also a bit of fun because the examiner herself was in training and being guided by another examiner, so we had the clear sense of knowing the basics as well as she did.  We learned about some new regulations being considered, and got an update on the latest developments in marine radio technology.

That's the thing about safety, though - you can never get complacent.  Coming back from a library presentation that evening, Dan went to check on the dinghy.  He stood up, pulling on its painter (the line tied to the bow of the dinghy, that we use to secure it to the dock), and in a moment of inattention, just kept going, toppling over backward for an unscheduled sea-bath.

= = = =
Side note: There's a rumor among boaters that having one of these stickers makes you less of a target for safety inspections at sea, and at least once we proved it true.

The Coast Guard can also board boats underway at will for these random safety inspections, and there's a whole debate on the Fourth Amendment implications of that practice, which I will not get into; I respect the C.G. and the work they do a lot.  But scheduling an inspection at the dock is a lot easier than having them do it while you're underway.  We had one at-sea boarding, while we were underway in the Waccamaw River in South Carolina on a calm, sunny Saturday morning.  Pleasant, no big deal, we spent as much time chatting with the guys over their choice of careers as they spent examining the boat.

Alternatively, last spring we were in a line of boats, 4 little ducklings in a row following the marks up Currituck Sound headed to the North Carolina/Virginia border, as the Coast Guard hailed the boats one at a time to do inspections underway, perhaps also to give themselves some bad-weather boarding practice.  They hailed the first boat in line a big sportfisher, "Have you ever been boarded at sea for a safety inspection?" "Yes, here last year." And the C.G. said, "We'd like to do one again."  About 15 minutes later, they left that boat and hailed the next in line, an older sailboat.  "Have you ever been boarded at sea for a safety inspection."  "No."  They explained that they'd like to come aboard, and asked the boat to slow to idle.  Fifteen minutes later, they finished that one and left.  And I'm thinking, we're obviously next and the wind is stinky and we don't handle well in these conditions and what would they do if we asked them to wait until we got to the shelter of those trees about an hour ahead?  They hailed us, "Sailing vessel Cinderella, sailing vessel Cinderella, have you ever been boarded at sea for a safety inspection?" "Yes, a couple of years ago in South Carolina, and we had the dockside safety check a few weeks ago before we left Florida."  Silence.  Then, "Thank you for taking the time to do that, have a good trip."  Whew!  Then the fourth boat in line, "Have you ever been boarded at sea for a safety check?"  Four boats, three inspections, one not ... yes, I'll take that sticker ... and it's free!

The Coast Guard crew posed for me for this photo after they completed our inspection in South Carolina in 2010.


  1. Great info. We have had two different friends that have had "safety checks" in the dead of night while they were making a passage somewhere. Both times the sudden arrival was quite a startle. I think I would prefer dockside.

  2. We called them after reading your post, and a woman came out just now and did the check for us (on Sunday, no less) and gave us our sticker. Quick and painless and now we feel more secure. Thanks for letting us know, guys!!

  3. Glad you found it useful! And, glad you're safe(r).