Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tow Lines and Danger

So one of the things I get asked a lot is "what causes accidents on the water"?  There is no single greater causes of accidents I can think of than lack of knowledge.   To illustrate this example, take a close look at the video below.  At first you will just see the breath-taking sea around the North coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  This was a particularly rough day with lots of holes (the spots between the chop/waves) and a fairly strong wind.  

What you might fail to notice is that there is a two and one half inch (6.5 cm) thick tow line stretching from the back of the tugboat all the way back to the barge.   That barge is back 500 meters or more in some cases.  This tow line is often under water and recreational boaters may not even understand that the tug and barge are linked.  This has lead to some very tragic accidents in the past.  

Notably on August 7, 1999,  the tug boat Jose Narvaez engaged in towing the gravel barge Texeda B.C.   While in transit, the crew of the tugboat Jose Narvaez felt a jerk on the towline. When the master (Captain) shone a searchlight upon the port side of the barge Texada B.C., he saw a grey object laying alongside the barge. The object was later identified as the Sunboy, a pleasure craft.  This boat had 14 people aboard.

Of the 14 people who had been on board the Sunboy, nine were rescued and survived, four drowned and one remains missing and is presumed drowned.  This accident could have been a lot worse.  Understanding the dynamics of how the tow cables work and how they react in the water is important.  Even when you encounter trawlers or sport fishermen, you need to be aware that any line towed in the water is likely to extend out a very long way with very little sinking.  These lines remain near the surface.  NEVER try to pilot a vessel between a tugboat and a barge.

Towboats have certain day signals that indicate they have a tow astern and at night they display certain lights to indicate that they have a tow and the length of the line.  Will you recognize the day shape for a towboat that has a tow astern or the lights displayed at night?


The Sunboy operators knowledge and understanding of navigational practices was
such that he did not fully recognize navigational cues that posed a danger to his vessel and passengers.


Knowledge is everything.  That is why we built the InstaCaptain application for Android Phones.  As the person responsible for your boat, you are responsible to know about the threats around you at all times and Transport Canada may hold you ultimately responsible for the safety of everyone on board your vessel.

Be safe out there!  Download the application today.  It is free.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Boating Safety Tip: Are you Dr. Hook?

Last summer while up at Port Alice, BC, I learned a very important lesson I want to share.  Sometimes is it the simplest of things that make the different between having a good day on the water and a very bad day.     I was stationed as the Captain on a boat that was about to pull up anchor and get underway.  Port Alice is situated inside a long narrow channel on the North West coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia and is largely dominated by the forestry industry.  

The area is not very forgiving when it comes to rough weather.  While the inlet itself is well protected, once you emerge into the West coast, the water can become very rough and unforgiving.  The entire west coast of Vancouver Island is littered with the remains of many ships.  Some call it the Graveyard of the Pacific.

So call it intuition or maybe just luck.   As we pulled anchor and were about to get under way, I had a niggling feeling something wasn't right.  It could have been a slightly different feel in the way the anchor came out of the water.  I felt compelled to check and found something that could have been a disaster for our boat and crew if left unchecked.  The anchor had hooked an old fish net and we had pulled it up to the surface.   The net probably would not have been an issue until we hit a certain speed.  At that time, if could have easily become wrapped into the propeller shaft or even the rudder rendering us powerless to steer or maneuver our ship.  

The lesson I want to share is that it pays to check your anchor anytime you pull it out of the water.  A couple of minutes to perform this simple safety check and haul the net in probably saved us.  Take the time to be safe out there, whether you're a pro or just boat for pleasure.  Things like this can save your skin.

Oh, and don't forget to download the newest of our mobile applications.  We have just launched a light version of Insta-Captain that contains the Morse Code and Phonetic Alphabet references all rolled into one.  You can get the application at http://www.appszoom.com/android_applications/books_and_reference/instacaptain-phoneticmorsecode_dezrn.html?nav=related 

Cheers!   The Captain~

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dolphins Playing in the Wild

One of the benefits of my work is that I get to see wildlife while working. This video was captured of one of my favorite creatures, the common dolphin [delphinus delphis].  It was filmed in Gordon Channel, near Port Hardy, British Columbia, Northbound to Port Alice off the West Coast of Northern Vancouver Island.  


These sea mammals usually grow up to a length if 2-2.6m ,weight up to 81.6kg.   Their beak is about 15 cm long.   These active fellas love to play around moving ships and will approach boats as they are very curious.  You can identify them with their back and flippers being mainly black, flanks yellowish in color and the belly is usually white.

Their natural range is the entire Pacific Coast.  They can be recognized by their habits as they commonly travel in schools and follows ships and boats up and down the coast with graceful leaps out of the water about the bow.   The  pacific white sided dolphin is very similar, a little bigger [2.1 to 2.7m] greenish black above, a white belly and blunter nose.  Dolphins are always a joy to watch.  I have seen the come from close to half a mile away to come an play about!

While Dolphins appear tame and eager to interact, it is always important to let them set the tone and pace.  Remember they are wild animals.  If you encounter them in the wild, consider yourself extremely lucky but never chase after them.

To help Dolphin's please consider donating money to The Dolphin Project, a project dedicated to helping end the hunting and captivity of this nobile animal and keep them playing in the wild where they belong.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Insta-Captain in now on Blogger

So who am I and why would you want to listen to me?  Let me introduce myself.  I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and am a Transport Canada certified Coastal Captain who regularly navigates some of the most treacherous waters with large barges in tow or on 300 meter ships.   I've been in this business for over 40 years and have learned a thing or two.

The purpose of this blog is to provide an outlet for sharing the things I have done right, the things I could have done better and share the lessons learned from both.      I have towed 350 foot barges around the North tip of Vancouver Island (a.k.a. "Cape Scott"), I have piloted 350 meter ships through narrows passages and also have a lot of very funny stories to share which are guaranteed to make you laugh.

I am also publishing a mobile application called Insta-Captain Boater's Reference (free) to help others learn the ins and outs of safe boating.  One of the things that readers of this blog need to understand first and foremost however is that the world's marine navigation is divided into two regions, A and B.  For some of the information I blog, please consult this chart to understand if it is applicable.

The last point I will make in this opening post is that the intent of this blog is to also tell stories from the lighter moments in a mariners life.  I'll be sharing many of these as the posts come.  I hope they make you laugh.

- Captain Robb