How to Have a Safe Christmas Boat Parade

Share this:


I cannot believe that it is time again for the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, with only 12 more days to the first night.  It is also time again for my tips to help you safely decorate your boat for this year’s theme “Lights, Camera … Christmas in Newport Beach!”

The theme celebrating the city’s movie and film heritage will spur creativity from boat owners that should produce fabulously decorated boats.  However, as you decorate you must keep safety in the forefront – both for those aboard your boat and for the other boaters around you on the water.

The primary consideration in decorating is that the skipper can see to safely steer without bright lights or decorations impeding the view.  Most boats are decorated during the daylight hours, so take a test cruise at night before the start of the parade to see if any of the lights or decorations need to be modified for safe boating.

You must remember to keep the safety of your guests a priority when decorating, because every year, I do notice some very hazardously decorated boats.  I have been zapped by touching metal railings that have grounded a wet extension cord.

Everyone knows that water and electricity do not make good partners, so here are a few precautions.  All of the exterior electrical cords should be rated for outdoor use, never use worn or frayed cords, and wrap all the connections with electrical tape to prevent grounding.  Lighted decorations and those with electric motors must be plugged into circuits protected by circuit breakers, and you need to know the faster way to kill that circuit should an electrical short occur.  So, do not wire directly to the battery terminals or behind the electrical panels, bypassing the circuit breakers.

The skipper’s diminished view combined with the distraction of on-board guests causes a high percentage of near misses during the parade.  Prudent seamanship dictates that, should the skipper’s view be restricted, someone should be posted as a lookout for those blind areas.  When I am in command of a yacht, I will have crew posted to be my eyes and ears.

Boating safety regulations require that none of the decorations obstruct or prevent the deployment of any required safety devices aboard your vessel, including ring buoys, life rafts, life jackets and fire extinguishers.  A common mistake is to wrap a string of lights around your ring buoy.  Looks festive, but now the lifesaving device can’t be thrown to someone who falls overboard.

Since you will be cruising at night, the decorations cannot interfere with the vessel’s normal navigational lights.  You will notice that the more seasoned boaters will enhance their navigational lights by using red bulbs by the port light and green light bulbs by the starboard light.

On a technical note, most people do not know that unless you are actually participating in a sanctioned parade, it is not proper to display any external lights, such as Christmas lights, that distract from the navigational lights.  The Harbor Patrol and the Coast Guard are using their discretion in enforcing this regulation during December, so cruise safely and do not install any extraneous lights, especially spotlights that shine into another skipper’s eyes.

Next week, I will share some of my tips on skippering a boat in the parade, and most importantly, parade etiquette for boaters.

Tip of the week is the 12th Annual Palos Verdes Peninsula Holiday Parade of Lights in the City of Rolling Hills Estates that is closing in on my radar for tomorrow night. Now, I know that this parade is not on the water, but a landlubber’s parade on the streets.  However, Michelle Swanson and I will be returning again as the co-hosts who will air on Cox Communications, and we will be announcing to the onlookers near our platform.  This is a marvelous family event and the weather forecasts look very favorable for the evening with only a slight chance of rain.

As I was reading the parade script, I noticed that this year’s parade will be spectacular, including the marching bands that have made this an annual tradition.  “Each year, we anticipate over 6,000 spectators watching along the parade route,” said Andy Clark, Community Services Director for the City of Rolling Hills Estates.

If you are in the South Bay then stop by tomorrow, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. along Silver Spur Road and Deep Valley Drive. The parade finishes at 8 p.m. after traveling through the Promenade on the Peninsula shopping mall.  This is a marvelous holiday family event, and I recommend for you and your family to dress warm and bring an umbrella just in case.

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.  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!


Share this: