Coast Guard Urges Recreational Boaters to Be Aware of Boating Safety Laws

SAN PEDRO, Calif. -In light of recent near misses and the start of the 2009 boating season, the Coast Guard will be increasing the enforcement of small vessel navigation rules. There have been several recent near misses in and around the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach which were the direct result of dangerous maneuvers by small craft impeding the movement of large commercial vessels. Reports include small craft impeding port channels, cutting through Pilot Operating Areas, and cutting across the path of large ocean going shipping, all violations of federal regulations.

Recreational, commercial fishing, and small passenger vessels must use extra care when transiting in port channels, Pilot Operating Areas, as well as the entire Precautionary Area. The Precautionary Area is a convergence zone for the two major shipping lanes in the Los Angeles and Long Beach area and extends approximately seven nautical miles from the federal breakwater.

Increased Coast Guard Patrols to Begin

Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles – Long Beach has taken a heightened posture towards addressing these violations. Taking a tiered approach, the Sector is nearing the end of the Outreach and Education Stage. This included coordination with the Los Angeles – Long Beach Harbor Safety Committee, distribution of safety pamphlets, and increased boating safety classes and exams offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The Enforcement Phase will begin in May with increased water patrols focused on navigation violations within the Port area. This corresponds with the National Safe Boating Week, May 16-22, 2009 and Memorial Day weekend which is the traditional start of the recreational boating season.

Important Navigation Rules for the Port Area

Stay Clear of Pilot Operating Areas. Part 165.1152 Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations prohibits any vessel from entering the Pilot Operating Areas unless they are entering/departing through the respective gate. Vessels are further prohibited from stopping or loitering (including fishing) in the area unless they are embarking or disembarking a pilot. The Pilot Operating Areas are shown on NOAA charts as purple trapezoids extending seaward from each gate (extending approximately 1.5 nautical miles from Los Angeles’ Angel’s Gate and 2.5 nautical miles from Long Beach’s Queen’s Gate). NOAA nautical charts 18749 and 18751 have notes printed on them alerting boaters to this rule.

Don’t Impede Vessels in Narrow Channels. Rule 9 of the International and Inland Navigation rules stipulates that vessels less than 20 meters (approximately 65 feet), sailing vessels, or vessels engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only in a “Narrow Channel or Fairway”. Coast Guard Captain of the Port Public Notice 1-96 applies Rule 9 to the Pilot Operating Areas and all channels leading to deep draft berths within the port. This means that any large commercial vessel operating anywhere in the Pilot Operating Areas or anywhere in the port should not be impeded by small vessels. This supersedes the navigation rule which gives sailing vessels right of way over power vessels.

Rule 9 further states that vessels shall keep as near to the outer limit of the narrow channel which lies on the starboard side as is safe and practicable. This means that small vessels should not proceed down the middle of port channels or down the middle of the Pilot Operating Areas.

Maintain a Proper Lookout. Rule 5 of the International and Inland Navigation rules requires a proper lookout by sight, hearing, and all available means.

Maintain a Proper Radio Watch. Required by the Vessel Bridge-to-Bridge Radiotelephone Act for power driven vessels over 20 meters (approximately 65 feet), as well as towing vessels over 26 feet, and vessels 100 gross tons or more while carrying one or more passengers. Vessels should monitor VHF-FM Channel 16 as well as passively listen to Vessel Traffic Service channels (CH 14 VTS outside breakwater, CH 73 Los Angles pilots, CH 74 Long Beach pilots).

Negligently Operated. Small vessels operating too close to a large vessel and impeding their safe passage are considered to be “negligently operated” and may be cited as such.

Avoiding Dangers inside a Commercial Port

The combined port complex of Los Angeles and Long Beach is one of the largest and busiest ports in the entire world. Thousands of recreational boaters, ships, tugs, barges, ferries, and other commercial vessels must share the use of the waterways everyday. This can be a challenge!

· Stay clear of commercial traffic lanes.

· Never pass between a tug and its tow or you may hit the long submerged tow line.

· Steer clear of large ships. Large ships have the right-of-way in channels and Pilot Operating Areas.

· Ship speeds can be deceptive. They cover distance much faster than it appears and it generally takes up to a mile and a half for these vessels to come to a complete stop. If a water skier or windsurfer falls a thousand feet in front of a moving tug, that person in the water has less than one minute to get out of the way of that vessel.

· A large ship’s blind spot can extend for hundreds of feet in front of them, so they may not even see a small craft which cuts in front of them.

· Take a Boating Safety Class. Get a Free Vessel Exam.

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