This is a re-post, with some edits, from a 2006 piece that I wrote—
Recently (back in 2006) on the Milwaukee Sea Kayak list (MilwaukeeSeaKayak@yahoogroups.com) there was a posting with the subject line of “Paddling among yachties.” A rather catchy title actually–the message concerned the visibility of kayakers to other boaters (larger and faster) and a suggestion by at least one person that kayakers be required to attach orange flags on the end of a wand to their kayaks—similar to those sometimes seen attached to bicycles. This is certainly not a new, or unique issue/problem, nor is the recommendation unique, and it has been debated in other locales as well. The issue has been “addressed” in Chicago, as well as the lobster waters of the northeast, and I’m sure there are other places as well.
The message cited the following concern from a recent meeting of the Harbor Safety Committee:
“. . .that boaters could not see the kayakers when they were backing out of their slips and that kayakers take short cuts through the ‘wave boards’.”
There are a couple of issues here, at least as I view it. One kayakers are not following the rules of the nautical road, and in some instances not using common sense. The other issue is that non-kayaking boaters are either traveling at an unsafe speed and/or not paying attention.
How many sea kayakers actually know the rules of the nautical road? Not that we need to know all of them, but there are some “primary” rules that we should know—and observe—and there are some rules that fall more into the “concepts” arena that we should also be familiar with. Then there are some “rules” that are just plain ol’ common sense.
To read the “navigational rules of the road” go to the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center’s web site: http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent. Here you will find the rules, and if you’d like, you can download a copy.
First of all, since sea kayaks are considered a “vessel” by the U.S. Coast Guard, the “Rules of the Nautical Road” do apply to us, and we need to be aware of them so that we’ll know what other, larger, vessels are likely (at least are supposed) to do. For example: What are the bigger vessels likely to do when approaching a channel marked by green buoy and a red buoy? When returning from sea (open water) in U.S. and Canadian waters the rule is “red right returning.” Therefore, when returning from sea, the larger vessels will keep the red buoys on their right, and the green buoys on their left. And, the opposite is true when leaving port. In other words, the buoys mark the traffic lanes and it’s safer for sea kayakers to stay out of these lanes. Personally, I like to keep the red buoys close on my left when returning from sea—larger boats then know what direction I’m traveling (going with the traffic) and I’m out of the channel, but still in deep enough water that I don’t have to worry about submerged rocks.
Secondly, every boater has the responsibility to take the appropriate action to avoid a collision with another. Such action should be clear in the intent—that is, if the relative bearing between you and another vessel does not change you are on a collision course, and clear and deliberate action is to be taken to indicate a change in heading, thus avoiding the collision.
Then there’s the “prudential” rule . . . if it’s bigger than you stay, out of its way. “What?” you say. Yes, sea kayaks are human powered, unless they are being sailed in which case they become a sailboat (and must follow the appropriate rules for a sailboat of their length). And, while some believe that human powered vessels (vessels under oar) have right-of-way over many other vessels, tonnage trumps right-of-way in my book. Additionally, a sea kayak is more maneuverable than most larger vessels—we don’t require the draft (water depth) of larger vessels; we can turn on a dime, while larger vessels may take miles to turn. Other things to consider are barges being towed have limited maneuverability, as do fishing boats with nets or lines out. Just as I don’t demand the right of way when I’m driving, I don’t demand it when I’m paddling either. Nor do I play “chicken” with other vessels, either of the head-on variety or the race across the channel version. To many other vessels sea kayaks are merely speed bumps.
And, there’s common sense—for example:
- Make yourself as visible as possible when paddling.
- Wear appropriately brightly colored clothing.
- Put reflective tape on your boat, paddle, and PFD.
- When paddling in a group, make the group more visible by making a tight POD (group).
- If you must cross channels and shipping lanes do so at right angles and at the shortest possible point in order to limit your time in the channel or lane.
- Use your VHF radio to communicate with other vessels as appropriate.
- Monitor VHF channel 16 for “securite” information from other vessels. For example, the Lake Express high-speed ferry broadcasts a “securite” notice in advance of its movement in or out of port—good information to have if you are paddling in the area of its dock or the south harbor entrance. Same is true for other large vessels and tour boats that use the harbor.
- Don’t “play” in harbor entrances; this includes practicing rescues and just hanging out.
- Don’t cut under the docks, you can’t be seen by other boats, and you’re focused on moving through so you won’t be as observant of other boat traffic.
- Don’t cut through moored or anchored boats. Again, you aren’t as visible to other boat traffic. Additionally, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether a boat is moored, anchored, or underway.
There are other points that could be added, but I think this should give you the idea. Now let’s have some questions and make this interactive!