General Boat Operations

When the dive team uses a boat for any of their operations they need to be sure of the divers safety. The vessel has to be checked regularly to ensure it is sound. Everyday the team's boat should have its fuel and oil checked. If the boat motor is two-cycle, insure that extra fuel tanks are mixed and ready. Keep extra cans of two-cycle mix with the boat.

Before obtaining a boat be sure that:
  • It is suitable for the area and its intended mission.
  • Check to be sure that it is seaworthy for any coastal usage.
  • Be sure that all required safety and running equipment is on board, and in good operating condition.
  • No mater what the size, inflatable, or not, it should have equipment to aid in running.
  • It must have a compass, fire extinguisher, binoculars, flares, horn, bumpers, and radio.

The boat operator or Skipper, is responsible for learning and observing all regulations governing the operation of the vessel in his charge. Safe operation involves the ability to avoid accidents. You have to watch out for the other guy. Always assume that the other person has no idea about the rules of the road, as it pertains to boating (and most don't).

At all times know who is in charge of the boat during operations!

Any orders that affect boat movement while divers are in the water, can only be given by the Divemaster! However when divers are not in the water the Skipper is in charge of the vessel. Remember there can be only one Captain.

Be sure that proper communication gear is on board. Inspect it to ensure it is operational, and tested. Some teams have the same radios in their boat as they do in their vehicles, others use walkie-talkies. If using a marine radio, and/or a CB radio, be sure of their operation. It is a good idea to have a NOAA weather radio on board. Flags, flares, horns, and whistles are also communication gear, and should be checked regularly. Flag signals should be arranged between the boat and shore in case of radio malfunction, or when the boat crew does not want their messages aired

The trailer must be safe, ensure that all lights work and connections are not corroded. Most important is always have a spare tire, do not get stuck on the side of the road without one.

When starting any boat operation, the first thing that needs to be done is to safely launch the boat and load it. After loading, insure that all safety equipment is accessible. Check the lights and horn. When launching from a trailer, be sure that you never cast off all lines. Someone on shore should hold on to the bow-line. Be careful with the trailer wheel hubs, which get underwater, repack them with grease regularly. Launching from other than approved locations can offer greater mobility, but weigh carefully if the risk, is worth the time saved. Launching at areas other than approved boat ramps requires checking for would be hazards such as soft sand, or mud. When beach launching be sure to park your vehicle above the high tide marks. Preplan to locate all possible entry points, and try them out under non-emergency conditions. Remember: NEVER try anything new at an actual emergency preplan and train.

There must be adequate, and safe anchoring equipment for water operations to take place. All personnel should be well acquainted with proper mooring techniques. When mooring, be sure you are in the most advantageous position to minimize the efforts of all divers. Choose an anchor that is best for the type of bottom you expect to working in. This can best be done by asking the local fishermen. Try to lower the anchor, and not throw it. Make sure you have enough line for the conditions, rough water will require a bit more line than calm water.

The team has to plan for any mishaps that may occur to the dive boat. Most teams use outboard motors, and shallow draft vessels such as pontoon or inflatable boats. When you get in too close and hit bottom, the motor can break its shear pin. The shear pin is designed to break in order to prevent damage to the engine. It is evident by a racing engine with no movement. When it befalls, shut down and anchor. Raise the motor, and get out that extra shear pin and cotter keys you carry. With your pliers, and screwdrivers, remove the hub and broken shear pin. Some motors require removing the prop also. Line up the shear pin holes in the shaft and prop, then insert the new pin. Replace the hub and you can get back into operation. It is wise to practice this maneuver on land, so that if happens under rescue conditions, you can pull it off smoothly. Remember to carry several pins due the fact that you may drop some in the water, and it can happen more than once.

Running aground is another problem that might require forethought. One of the greatest hazards to a vessel is to run aground. All vessels have a certain draft that is the greatest vertical distance from the bottom of the keel to the surface of the water. The draft may be only a few inches to over 40 feet. Whenever in shallow areas boats take soundings, or record the depth. In early days sailors used weights tied to rope or long poles. The ropes were marked at every 6 feet and called a fathom. When charts were made the term soundings was used to indicate shallow water

The first impulse when running aground is to throw it in reverse and gun the engine. It is better to shut down, and use a boat hook, or oar, to try to push off. If that does not work try getting out and pulling the boat back to deeper water.

If the motor fails to start, it can be very embarrassing to the Dive Team. The most common causes are, out of gas, gasoline valve closed, dead battery, bad or no ground, lost of prime, too much oil in mixture, fuel filter, or the exhaust silencer stuck closed. This problem can be avoided by testing your engine regularly.

Every vessel should keep a chart of channel markers. Buoys are floating signpost. By their color, shape, number, light, or sound they tell how to avoid hazards, and aid in keeping a safe course. A buoy is placed with its identifying characteristics marking the safe channel from seaward. This is remembered by the three "R's": Red-Right-Returning. This means when entering a port from open water, keep the red buoy to the right side of the vessel. When leaving port, it is the opposite, keeping the red buoy to port.

Lighted buoys mark channels for night navigation. They have green and red lights, and are used like day markers. Green lights are kept to left and a red lights are kept to right when returning. A round cylinder shaped buoy is called a CAN. When colored white, with bright orange horizontal bands completely around, one at the top, the other is at the water line, and both clearly visible, it is a REGULATORY MARKER. Between the stripes will be different shapes. A diamond marks a hazard, such as shallow water, or a waterfall. It also means closed to boating traffic, such as due to swimmers. Rescue boats can enter swimming areas when an emergency exist, but the utmost caution must be used. The other shapes in regulatory markers is a circle, which indicating control, such as maximum speed, or no wake zone. The last is a square that giving piloting information.

The RULES OF THE ROAD is the standard regulations governing the operation of vessels. These rules apply to all vessels operating offshore, or on the high seas and connected waterways. Offshore means outside of buoy number one. In general it should be taken to mean that if you are operating off a beach in either the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, or Atlantic Oceans or any connecting bays or sounds, you are offshore and considered on the high seas. When you are in a bay or sound such as Puget Sound, there are harbor rules enforce to regulate traffic. Parts of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River are considered the high seas. When operating on lakes or rivers vessels are under the INLAND RULES OF THE ROAD. Any team that operates a boat should have a copy of all state and federal regulation and know them.

All vessels under way must keep out of the way of vessels anchored, or aground. When dive operations are underway the team must signal to other vessels in the area that they are at anchor, and divers are in the water. During daylight, the dive boat flies the Code Alpha flag offshore, or the Sport Divers Flag inland. It is best to fly both flags offshore, and only when divers are in the water. The diver down flag cannot be flow as a pennant. At night, the vessel must display three lights that are, red over white over red. This light arrangement means that the vessel cannot maneuver.

When two vessels are traveling at different speeds it is hard to tell if they are on a collision course. One way to do so, is by looking to the shore line, and noting if it maintains an in line course with a particular feature. If so, then the two vessels may be on a collision course. By doing this periodically your vessel can stay out of the path of any on coming vessels

Powered vessels must give way to sailing vessels, this is because sailboats are less maneuverable. This applies to all situations in who must give way. The most maneuverable must give way to the less maneuverable.

When maneuvering insight of one another, approaching vessels should use their horns or whistles to inform of their actions. In all waters one short blast means "I am going to starboard" and two short blast means "I am going to port" and three short blast mean "I am backing up". Four or more short horn blast indicate that the other vessel's signals were not understood.

When visibility is limited due to fog or other reasons, then your speed should be limited to what is best for visibility. For night operations the vessel should be equipped with bow lights that are red to port, green to starboard, and a white stern light. When approaching head on, both the green and red lights will be seen. In this situation both vessels must steer starboard after sounding one short blast. This means they will past to port keeping the red light in sight. When only the red light is seen both pilots should hold course until passed. The same holds true for two green lights. When a vessel is crossing your bow in a way that might lead to a collision, the vessel to port shall hold course and speed, the other shall cross astern, or slacken speed to avoid collision.

All the rules of the road are covered in U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules, International-Inland (USCG-169). However the boat operator must keep in mind that most recreational boaters have never heard of, or seen it. Always operate defensively and you will never be involved in any accidents.

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