Monthly Archives: March 2010

Spring Safety

As the days get longer and the weather gets nicer, droves of new boaters are flocking to local chandleries to obtain the “required safety essentials” for boating. Many boat stores have handy visual charts showing the minimum legally required safety equipment based on your vessel’s length. However, the Coast Guard’s legal minimum is just that–a minimum–and should be regarded as only the barest of necessities for boating.

The American Sailing Association has clearly defined an extended list of safety essentials that every prudent boater should be equipped with when taking to the water. When going boating this spring, use this checklist to help you prepare safely.

USCG minimum legal safety requirements:
PFDs: One for each passenger, plus one throwable for boats over 16 feet. ASA offers a top-tier Blue Storm automatic inflatible vest with built-in sailing harness here:
Visual and sound signals: All vessels should carry an efficient means of making a sound signal, such as a compressed air horn, in addition to day/night visual distress signals, such as flares (which are effective in light or darkness).
Navigation lights: Any vessel operating at night or in times of limited visibility (such as fog) must display the appropriate running lights for its size.
Fire extinguishers: The number and type differ depending on the size of your boat and whether it has a fixed engine room extinguisher system, so double check the requirements.

ASA additionally recommends the following gear for safe sailing:
Navigation charts and equipment: Having a way to locate where you are is critical should you ever need to call for help. Don’t forget to bring a compass.
VHF radio: How are you going to call for help without a radio? At the very least, boats should carry an inexpensive weather radio to keep an ear out for worsening weather changes.
Soft wood plugs: Various sizes of tapered plugs can stop up unexpected leaks or defective through-hull fittings.
Bilge pump: It’s said that there’s no better bilge pump than a man with a bucket in a sinking boat. But that’s actually not true–manual and automatic bilge pumps can dump water out at a much faster rate.
Anchor: If the wind or your engine should fail you, having an anchor provides a safe way to stop the boat from drifting into dangerous areas.
First aid kit: Make sure to include sunscreen and seasickness remedies!
Tool kit with spare parts
Flashlight: For illuminating sails and finding your way around the boat at night.
Safety harnesses: One for each person to be used in bad weather or at night.
Life bouys and buoyant heaving line: Should anyone fall overboard, it’s important to have a way to retrieve them quickly and safely.
Life raft or dinghy: Large enough to carry everyone on board.

I always find it a bit unnerving to run down a safety checklist because it reinforces how many dangers are involved in our sunny sport. But preparedness is the best remedy and insurance. Take this list shopping with you and enjoy a safe and carefree boating season!

Find Your Flotilla

At this moment, Brenda from the ASA’s Education Department is attending the Pine Island Sound flotilla in the turquoise Gulf of Mexico. I just received an email from her titled: Welcome Party at Burnt Store Marina Tiki Hut with fresh local seafood including stone crab claws and shrimp.


ASA flotillas are amazing sun-drenched sailing parties, and I’m counting the days until I take off to blog our ultra-adventurous Bahamas trip in April. The fantastic thing about joining an ASA flotilla is that most of the logistical planning is taken care of for you, and of course pirate parties are complimentary. And for lack of a better metaphor, my mouth is watering over the flotilla fare offered in 2010. Here’s a snapshot of the different flavors:

Super-salty adventure seafaring: April 24-May 1 in the Exuma Islands, Bahamas, this flotilla takes place on traditional wooden 21-foot Sea Pearls. Rustic beach camping, cave swimming, and spearfishing punctuate the palate of this swashbucklers’ paradise.

Fresh-caught wild week: June 18-25 in the San Juan Islands, Washington, this flotilla explores the salmon-rich waters of the Pacific Northwest’s famous archipelago. Bald eagles, Dahl’s porpoises, and wooded island hiking trails characterize the lush natural beauty of this trip.

Sweet and secluded sailing: June 25-July 2 in Canada’s Gulf Islands, this flotilla reaches north from the San Juans into the grand straits of British Columbia. Tucked-away villages, craggy headlands, grazing deer, and abundant bird life encircle the waters you’ll be sailing this week.

Floating cosmopolitan cuisine: September 2-12 in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands, this flotilla captures warm mediterranean winds in the Adriatic’s sapphire seas. Abundant ancient history, fresh-pressed olive oil, homemade local wine, and some of the best sailing in the world awaits you in this world-class destination.

Sailors’ backyard barbecue: September 10-17 in Clearwater Beach, Florida, this flotilla has all the best features of Gulf of Mexico sailing without international travel hassles. With eco tours, day sails, educational clinics, and pirate parties, this shore-based sailing week will be fun for your whole family.

So what do you crave?

See for signup information. Fair winds!

ASA at Strictly Sail Pacific

I love the smell of boat shows. The exciting scent of unmarred fiberglass and glasslike varnishes, newly-sewn vinyl and glossy brochures. I vividly remember going to the Minneapolis Boat Show every year as a little girl, trudging through the snow to get inside the jam-packed convention center. My young imagination went wild exploring the little nooks of the huge showroom vessels, and I still get the same thrill poking around the boat show stalls, sucking on the complimentary hard candies, and calculating the days till it’ll be warm enough to sail.

The midwinter boat show season, especially in colder climates, is truly the first harbinger of spring. And here we are, finally, springing forward into daylight savings time and the glorious season for sailing. Marina del Rey celebrated Opening Day this weekend, and the fluttering rainbow scene of dozens of dressed ships was more spring-like than a bunch of daffodils. Of course, in the process of “dressing ship” for Opening Day, many of us created the year’s mental to-do list for the boat . . . which is why I’m looking forward to the next boat show in our area, Strictly Sail Pacific.

All boat shows are fantastic, but a show made for sailors alone is truly my cup of tea. ASA will be at the show, and our  freshly-printed Sailing Made Easy textbook will no doubt catch your eye. It’s water resistant pages make this book a fully functional learning tool for new sailors and a long-lasting standby for any sailor’s library. If you’re attending the show, stop by and see it at booth #121. (More info on Strictly Sail Pacific can be found here:

Happy spring and happy sailing season–we hope to be seeing you out on the water soon!

Announcing Croatia 2010 Flotilla

Warm breeze, cerulean seas, fig trees… Yes Please!

ASA just announced our Fall 2010 Flotilla — a vacation in the unparalleled Dalmatian Islands of Croatia. This is one you won’t want to miss: the Adriatic Sea is a color unlike anywhere else in the world, the breeze is constant and tantalizing, the food is Mediterranean-fresh world-class cuisine, and the culture abounds with ancient history and generous hospitality.

Joining a fleet of other ASA members, you will enjoy tiny fishing villages, stunning ancient sites, an abundance of home-pressed olive oil and local wines, and cruising in one of the world’s most desirable sailing destinations.

A few highlights from the itinerary include:

  • Anchorage in a cove on the tiny island of Vis, near an old secret submarine pen
  • Mountaintop evening dining at a local winery
  • Exploration of the otherworldly Blue Cave on the island of Bisevo
  • A night in Korcula, the birthplace of Marco Polo
  • Lunch or overnight anchorages on more than five unique isles in Dalmatia

Visit for more details and to reserve your spot early–this trip is sure to fill fast.

Boater Education Just Got Easier

A few weeks ago I headed out to Santa Cruz Island in a light breeze–a rather boring breeze in fact. I was relaxing in the sun twirling my thumbs when I heard a voice barely come through over channel 16: “Hello…I need help.” I jumped below, turned up the volume, and heard it again, impatiently singsongy, “Hello, somebody, I need help.” That was all he said.

I was about to respond to his call when the Coast Guard came in: “This is the United States Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles hailing the vessel calling for help–are you in distress?” A few seconds later, the unidentified caller responded, “Somebody…we need help…we need somebody to bring us more gas.”

Oh for the love, I thought. With nothing better to do, I eavesdropped on the rest of the conversation, which included the Coast Guard trying (in vain) to a.) get any sort of identifying information on the boat, b.) get the guy to swtich to a different channel and call Vessel Assist instead, and c.) give his position. I was almost laughing by the time the Coast Guard officer was saying “okay sir, you’re going to see a 33 number and a 118 number… I need you to tell me what those are.”

This poor fellow was only a mile or so from the beach, and clearly had no idea what he was doing. I was laughing only because I knew the Coast Guard wouldn’t let him wash ashore, but on the other hand, I was amazed that people like that are allowed to go out boating. Despite the Coast Guard’s efforts to switch to a working channel, the ridiculous conversation tied up 16 for about twenty minutes–what if someone else really had been in distress?

ASA has long made sailing education accessible, effective, and fun, but now that we’ve teamed up with, there’s absolutely no excuse for not knowing the pointy end from the square end. By taking BoaterExam’s ONLINE education course and earning your Boater Education Card, you can make our waterways safer, avoid state licensing fines, and even entitle yourself to reduced marine insurance.

So if you can’t find time for a hands-on course with ASA (although you should make time; you’re missing out!), you can still become a responsible skipper by earning your Boater Education Card from home. Find out more information at Copy that!

Holes in the Water? Psshaw.

The tired old adage “boats are holes in the water into which you pour money” makes me involuntarily eye-roll. Yes, boating can be an expensive sport, but it doesn’t have to be. We can trick our vessels out with all sorts of comforts, but we can also circumnavigate with not much more than a sextant. Sailing, at its core, is a sustainable and affordable activity: As long as there is wind on earth, our boats will sail, and we will be moved.

I suppose common notions about the cost of boat ownership combined with NPR’s ever grimmer updates about the nation’s economy made me worry the worst for the future of sailing too. Unemployment is rising, homes are foreclosing, and we’re going to hell in a handbasket. But in the midst of all the mayhem, we’re still hauling our halyards. ASA took its first-ever member survey at the end of 2009, and the findings reveal that despite the economic downturn, sails are full and participation is growing across demographic groups.

ASA’s survey showed that 30 percent of the 2300 responders are affluent, with incomes above $150k annually. (Okay so we know those guys can afford to keep sailing.) But notably, a much larger chunk of the pie–44 percent–make between $50k and $149k, a solid middle-class range. This statistic supports the idea that the sailing lifestyle need not be reserved for the wealthy; sailing is still an economically accessible sport. Further debunking the common stereotype of the “wealthy white middle-aged male sailor,” ASA’s survey saw women, and those under the age of 45, emerge as an under-served audience (about 53 percent combined).

The good news for everybody is that ASA is actively responding to our growing member demographic in addition to continuing to provide events that have proven popular in the past. This spring we’re hosting an incredibly adventuresome flotilla in the Exuma Islands, Bahamas, featuring traditional open Sea Pearl 21s, deserted beach camping, cave grottos, and spear fishing. Followed by flotillas in the wild Pacific Northwest and historic Croatia, these major events are geared for the young and young-at-heart.

So in response to those who chide “a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money,” I say “Psshaw . . . well, perhaps sometimes.” But we know that wealth is not a prerequisite for sailing, and after all, wind is free.

If you’re interested in becoming a member of the American Sailing Association or are in search of a floating adventure, please visit