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Skipper’s Corner – Time To Get “Aids to Navigation” Right

Aids to navigation have been around coastal waters since the first Neanderthal went fishing in a calm bay cove. Having caught all he needed, he paddled back in his crude willow branch and hide skin boat and found that low tide arrived, and a sand bar prevented him from reaching shore for two hours until the tide rose. Pissed off and mosquito ravaged he went back and marked the bar with a pole. That was the first aid to navigation, and sadly, we don’t even have a memorial to him.
Over the years our navigable waters have been reduced and removed in the tighter channels and cuts in our bays. It has even been problematic in some inlets. There are reasons given for this. One is that some authorities have deemed them less important with the advent of GPS. GPS has indeed been an unimaginable assist to pleasure boaters and professional seamen but it is not perfect. Just like our armed forces expound the necessity to have eyes and boots on the ground behind enemy lines, so do boaters need more navigational aids and patrols in our waters. It is most important to novice boaters who are just learning our waters.

The further apart the navigation buoys are placed in the bay and inlet, and the loss of older navigation pilings to age that are not replaced with an appropriate nun, can, or junction buoy, the more difficult and dangerous navigation becomes. An example is the Goose Creek Channel that runs from just east of the Wantagh Bridge out to east Massapequa to the open Great South Bay. The Town of Hempstead refuses to mark this channel where you enter and once you get on the inside. Yet if you manage to run the gauntlet to where the Town of Oyster Bay starts, it’s suddenly nicely marked. Can two local governments work together to mark them jointly and take the pressure off the State Channel? Does not doing so make any sense? Please tell me, I want to understand.

One of the frequent complaints used to reduce marking more navigable waters is that it’s expensive. I am sure it is. So are lawsuits. But the fact is that boating is an enormous tax base everywhere. Funds pour into the government from selling boats, docking fees, bulk heading assessments, waterfront dining, marine equipment sales and boat fuel. The government takes more from the boater and skimps on givebacks. It would be fair to start marking bays better. No one needs cases of death and injury due to under-maintained or removal of aids to navigation.
But here is where it becomes really personal. What is noted in this article is to show you, the boater, that you cannot rely on any chart, your GPS, or your radar. YOU, the captain, must always be aware of your surroundings! These fancy gadgets and those placed buoys that shift, or are no longer maintained, mean nothing if you cannot slow down and read the waters with your eyes. Visually being on the lookout for the next buoy on your GPS, and making sure you are right on track, all that while maintaining awareness of any vessels near you. If you have a crew of passengers, get them to help if they are responsible people. At night, well you’re just plain insane if you don’t pull way back on the throttle, cut the bright lights and the boom box music, and let your eyes adjust to the dark. Take it slow, so that if you miss that marker, you aren’t driving your vessel onto the shore and a quarter mile into the wetlands. Remember this, as captain of your vessel, YOU are the first line when it comes to “Aids to Navigation”!
See you on the water! And enjoy some autumn boating.
Captain Eddy