Don’t Blame Boaters for Harbor Water Pollution

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Heal the Bay recently released its 2010-2011 Beach Report Card that is always on my Top 10 reads list for local reports, and I am pleased to see that Newport Harbor is rated well.  However, the report was not good news for Avalon Harbor Beach, which is listed as No. 2 among the Top Ten Beach Bummers.

Newport Harbor has 23 monitoring sites listed in the report, which I think is more than San Diego or San Francisco Harbor. Newport Harbor received mostly “A” grades in the four categories listed as April-October, dry year-round, wet year-round, and winter dry (November-March).  Only during the wet year-round did the grades drop to 3-Fs, 1-D, 1-C, and the remainders as A and B.

This proves, as I have mentioned for years, that it is the urban run-off or non-point source pollution that is affecting our local waters, as shown by the wet year-round grades, so don’t blame the boaters.  I mention the boaters because for years the finger was pointed at the boaters who were said to be the No. 1 source of pollution, by dumping their waste holding tanks in the bay. Of course, the majority of boats in the Harbor do not have heads or holding tanks aboard, and one sewer line break dumps thousands of gallons of waste into the bay, which is more than all the boats’ holding tanks combined.

Blaming boaters leads me to Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, which continues to receive F grades as it has for a decade or more.  Keep in mind that Avalon has some of the strictest regulations for boaters who moor in the harbor, in regards to holding tanks and heads.  Every boat will be inspected for any waste leaking into the harbor, including having a dye tablet flushed in each head.  Oh, a head is a toilet for you land lubbers.

If any dye is seen in the water around the boat then a fine is imposed and the boat is banished from Avalon for a period of time.  This is important to know, because for years the island officials blamed boaters and bird droppings as the sources of the pollution in the harbor.  In the past, boaters have always been an easy target to blame in Avalon, just as in Newport Harbor, for any bad water quality.

However, the new diagnostic tools have changed the playing field to more precisely identify where pollutants originate, and it is not from boaters.  Newport Harbor’s pollutants are from the urban run-off: storm drains, sewer line breaks, and the miles of inland watershed that empties into the Back Bay. Avalon’s failing report card stems from the aging and failing sewer lines leaking and leaching into the water.

Many boaters from Newport visit Avalon on a regular basis, stimulating the island’s economy, so finally boaters are off the list as the cause for their bad water quality.  However, I wonder about using your water maker while moored in Avalon.

Tip of the week is for every boater to make safe passage through the harbor with the hundreds of sailboats in the summer classes and races.  Remember, the harbor is open to everyone and technically no program or event can block any portion of navigable waters unless granted a special event permit by the Coast Guard.

With that said, I have noticed that sailing programs are making an effort to leave room between their buoys and the shore for “sea room” passage.  However, it is a different story during the summer’s weekday evening races in the harbor, as the boats sail the length of the harbor, and when boaters are beating upwind, their courses might take them zigzagging across the bay from shoreline to shoreline.

Boaters casually cruising through the harbor should try to think ahead to avoid the sailboats by planning a course outside of any markers, potentially changing your course, and preparing to slow down or stop if needed.  Please watch out for the beginner sailor who may lose control and drift in front of your vessel.

Sometimes it is impossible to avoid the fleet, and if a vessel ends up in the middle of sailboats, then everyone needs to be courteous, as prescribed by maritime law and right-of-way rules that are dictated for all vessels.  Sailors do not need to be waving and yelling for the boater to move, and especially, harsh words do not need to be exchanged.

Everybody should maintain their Corinthian spirit and try to get the vessel through the fleet without tempers flaring.  Seamanship and good sportsmanship are what we need to be instilling as boaters, and there will always be another day, I hope.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific.  Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.”  You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at or

Until next week, Safe Voyages!

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