Mayday Can Hit Any Day of the Year

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“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” is the start of a radio transmission from a boater who is in distress, and it was not an April Fools Day joke for one local tour boat.  The Fun Zone Boat Company’s Show Boat was in a Mayday situation just before noontime while cruising in the small turning basin by Lido Isle Bridge last Friday.

You might remember the Show Boat as the former Pavilion Paddy when the vessel was owned by the Catalina Passenger Service run out of the Balboa Pavilion.  Now operating from the Fun Zone, the boat had 19 sightseeing passengers enjoying a harbor tour with summertime weather when smoke began bellowing from the engine compartment, potentially jeopardizing all aboard.  However, the two crewmembers knew how to handle the situation and, as is usual when a boater is in distress, other local boaters quickly came to help, transferring the passengers off of the Show Boat.

Since this 36-foot-long tour boat is a USCG inspected and documented vessel (USCG Doc. No.: 927511), then the Coast Guard requires the crew to regularly practice and log emergency procedures to be certified for carrying passengers.  Luckily, this was a small engine room fire with no injuries, but it reminds the paying public to the importance of the strict safety regulations and licensing requirements that legitimate charter operators must abide by.

Remember, if you are in distress in Newport Harbor or outside the harbor then you will use channel 16 on your marine band radio to call for help.  Channel 16 is the hailing and distress channel monitored by the Harbor Departments, USCG, and other boaters, especially commercial vessels.

An excerpt from the radio book that I authored: “Channel 16 is the international hailing, safety, and distress channel and the channel that most radios will default when powering on the radio.  This is the channel that is used for emergencies and to hail other vessels (channel 9 may be used for recreational vessels) anywhere in the world.  This channel is to establish communications with another boater and immediately switch to an appropriate channel.  Never chat with another boater nor ask for a radio check on channel 16.”

I have been noticing that many boaters, especially Sunday sailors, either have forgotten or do not know the simple protocols when using the VHF marine band radio, which is a very useful communication tool, especially in an emergency situation.  I cannot fathom why any boater would venture out of Newport Harbor into the Pacific Ocean without knowing how to use the VHF radio for an emergency.

Tip of the week is the breaking news that was aired on my radio show last Saturday from the 87th meeting of the National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) that might affect boaters across the nation.  Ray Tsuneyoshi, who is the former director of California’s Boating and Waterways Department and now the National Program Director for the US Power Squadron, was a participant in a council vote of 15 to 6 just hours prior to us going live on the air.  That vote gave the go ahead for the NBSAC to officially recommend to the Coast Guard a mandatory life jacket requirement aboard all vessels less then 18 feet in length.

This will include boats like tenders, skiffs, whalers, Sabots, Lidos, Lasers, Duffys, pedal boats, personal watercraft, etc., and all manually powered boats like canoes, kayaks and rowboats regardless of length.  Tsuneyoshi said, “This mandate will affect 85% of the highest risk of boating use by the public with a potential of saving 91 lives per year from drowning at the onset to potentially a maximum of 200 people per year.”

If the Coast Guard adopts this mandate, will it affect boating in Newport Harbor?  You bet for the better and maybe so not better.  Do I think there should be exceptions if the mandate is adopted?  You bet I do, but where do I start?  Will the less-than-18-foot regulation change your buying habit when shopping for a boat?  I think it will if someone is contemplating buying between a 16 foot model and the 18 foot model then one might lean towards the larger boat.

Standup paddle boarders should be the exception to the rule and here is why.  You will be required to wear a life jacket while paddling in the harbor, but not required if you lay down on the board.  So in theory, you will be wearing a life jacket while paddling out of the harbor, but once you reach the surf line then the jacket can come off.

I foresee much more debate on this recommendation and I will keep you up to date.

Lastly, has anyone notice a large catamaran mooring in the large turning basis?  More to come.

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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