Thoughts From the Bridge: Help Wanted, Signals, and Sad News

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The Newport Sea Base is casting out a net for a lead sailing instructor to work at the state-of-the-art facility.  This year-round part-time job is perfect for an experienced sailor to teach the next generation how to guide boats across the water.  I remember teaching sailing from Sabots to 50-footers during my college years and beyond.  As a matter of fact, I wrote my first book about how to sail a cat-rigged boat, which of course is a Sabot.

The Sea Base is operated by the Boy Scouts of America, and there are classes and programs for boys and girls.  Additionally, the base is home port to three Sea Scout ships: Del Mar, Renegades and Triton.  The first ship on recorded arrived in 1929, when Pacific Coast Highway looked much different than it does today.

You can find out more details about the position and submit an application to Christiana Tasto, who is the program coordinator at the base, by calling 949-642-5030 or via email at [email protected].

This week’s question is a common one that I am asked frequently by everyone from novices to the seasoned boaters.  The question is: The skipper of Balboa Island Ferry will at times honk his horn at me as I sail in the Harbor, and then stop the ferry in the middle of the bay. What is he doing, and what should I do?

Well first, I think that every boater should be required to read the United States Coast Guard’s book “International-Inland Navigation Rules.”  Reading this book, you will not only learn the navigation rules, but also, the sound signals.  Most boaters do not know that this book is required to be aboard all commercial vessels regardless of size, and every recreational boat over 12 meters (or 39.4 feet).

Instead of waving at the Captain with only one finger raised, you should first pick up the copy of the book to look up the meaning of that whistle signal (“whistle means any sound signaling appliance capable of producing the prescribed blasts and which complies with the specifications in Annex III to these regulations”).

Since I did not hear the signal, I would guess that the ferry Captain was simply being courteous on the water and sending you a sound signal.  Most likely three short blasts were sounded, and a short blast is a blast lasting about one second.  Three short blasts signal to another boater that “I am operating astern propulsion.”

In other words, I am reversing my engines to either stop, slow down or back down.  This is a common signal in a crossing situation to let the other boater know that I am attempting to let you go in front of me.  Remember, that just because you heard three short blasts does not imean that the other boat will immediately be going backwards – there is that little word called momentum.  You might recall momentum from the last time you tied to dock?

You will hear many charter boats in the harbor giving sound signals while underway, and most if not all charter boat operators give the incorrect whistle signals when backing out of their slip.  You usually hear one prolonged blast (of four- to six-second duration) immediately followed by three short blasts.  Technically, there should be a minimum of 10 seconds between signals as they are actually meaning to give a signal of one prolonged blast and then a separate signal of three shorts blasts.  I know this because the signal of one prolonged and three short is not what they are doing.

Who knows what one prolonged blast means?  Additionally, does anyone know what the signal of one prolonged and three short blast mean?

Let’s all be courteous on the water.

Sad news is that Brain England passed away on Feb. 8 from a heart attack after being rushed to Hoag Hospital by Newport paramedics.  Brian grew up in Newport Heights and graduated in 1976 from Newport Harbor High School.  Brian will be missed by his friends and family, and his smiling face and laughter will always be remembered.

A celebration of his life will be held Sunday, March 25, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Center at 1845 Park Ave.  His family is asking that in lieu of flowers guests bring a pizza or your favorite dessert to share with everyone.

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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