What is a Commercial Vessel?

A friend recently asked about Condor’s commercial inspection.  I clarified that Condor is an Uninspected Passenger Vessel and goes through an examination rather than an inspection.  While it may seem like semantics, there is more to it than that.USCG Exam

First, let me explain why Condor is a commercial vessel and not a recreational vessel.  We take paying customers onboard, so Condor has to be documented or registered as a commercial vessel.  If one person pays to be on the boat, the vessel has to be a commercial vessel.  Even if the captain or owner of the boat doesn’t receive a cent, as may be the case with a nonprofit organization like SeaAffinity, the boat still needs to be commercial.  We are not willing to risk facing a $60,000 fine!

There are several levels of commercial vessels.  The two most common are Inspected and Uninspected.  The differences are as different as the name. While there are requirement for both, Inspected boats are required to go through a rigorous periodic inspection to maintain their Certificate of Inspection (COI).

Inspected Vessels

Inspected vessels are generally permitted to carry more the six passengers.  They have a long list of stringent requirements to maintain that ability.  These include stability tests, solidly encased tankage, permanently installed fire suppressant systems, life boats, higher life lines, and many others.  It would be easy to spend $20,000 to bring a vessel up to these standards.  When consider a 36 foot vessel, such as Condor, we would not want more than six passengers due to comfort and space.  There would be no financial benefit to obtaining a COI for more than six passengers since we would not take more than six anyway.

Uninspected Vessels

There is a vast difference between a recreational vessel and an uninspected passenger vessel.  From outward appearances, they may look the same, but there are a few telltale differences.  (I will go into them later.) While the US Coast Guard is not required to come on board and check things, they still can.

Manning: An Uninspected Vessel must be manned by a USCG licensed captain.  They must have a copy of their license on board. The captain is limited to 12 hours on watch.

Drug testing:  The captain and crew must have evidence of participating in a drug-testing program.  This includes pre-employment and periodic random testing.  It also includes probable cause testing.  For instance, if there is an accident or an injury requiring more than first aid, the captain needs to be tested. The vessel also needs to have a drug policy posted.

Trade Eligibility: There are two options here.  If the vessel is less than five Net Tons, it can be registered with the state as a commercial vessel.  This is the case with our Novurania that we use for powerboat training. (Please note that Net Tons is not weight, but rather a measurement of volume – how much cargo it can carry).  Our powerboat is state registered as a commercial vessel and is insured to carrying passengers and for teaching.

If it is over five Net Tons, it has to be documented with the Coast Guard as a commercial vessel.  It also requires endorsement for Coastwise Trade, which seems a little strange for a boat teaching lessons or taking guests out for a couple hours.

With both of these options, the boat must be U.S. owned and U.S. built. This stems from the Jones Act. Does that rule out all foreign-built vessel from operating as a UPV?  No.  Owners of boats built outside the U.S. can apply for a MARAD waiver, pay a $500 filing fee, and hope the Federal Government approves the application.

Vessel Papers: UPVs are required to carry their state registration or USCG documentation onboard.  As mentioned above, if the bot is more than five Net Tons (or about 30’), it has to be documented and not only display its name and hailing port on the stern, it has to have its name on both sides of the bow in four inch letters. (That is one of the visual distinctions I mentioned in the opening.)

Safety Orientation: UPVs are required to give a verbal safety announcement prior to getting underway.  They are also required to have instructive placards.

Lifesaving Equipment: That bag of type II PFDs getting moldy in the bottom of the locker are not going to cut it.  UPVs are required to have those big bulky Type I offshore PFDs.  Vessels also are required to have an orange of white ring buoy.  In addition, all of these must bear a mark from the USCG approving them for commercial use.

Fire prevention and Suppression:  Vessels operating as UPVs must meet stricter guidelines than those for recreational vessels.  This includes not only fire extinguishers, but also combustibles.

Other Stuff: Rather than listing every requirement for UPVs, I’m going to point you to the USCG UPV Guidebook that goes into a detailed listing of the requirements.  You can find that publication here – https://homeport.uscg.mil/Lists/Content/Attachments/1600/UPV_JobAid2011.pdf

But There is More!

The USCG UPV Guidebook doesn’t mention insurance.  While you technically could operate a UPV without insurance, I would not be wise.  One little accident or even a misstep could lead to a lawsuit.  A vessel or operator that is not properly insured could end up losing everything. 

From the passenger’s perspective

How do you know if that boat you are getting on is legal to take paying customers?  Does it even matter?  It may!  First, all of the above information outlines some of the requirements for commercial vessels.  For your safety, it is a good idea to ask to see proof of these before getting on board.  If the captain hesitates to produce any of it, it is probably a good sign that they are not legal.

Whether they are legal matters most if there is an accident. Granted, the chance of an accident is pretty slim, but that it why they are accidents.  No one plans to trip over a line and break their arm.  However, these things happen.  When you try to file a claim against the vessel’s insurance, you may be surprised to find they are not covered.  Yes, you can sue, but since they are not covered, you may not end up with much of value to you.

If a vessel is taking passengers, it needs to have a charter insurance policy.  If they are teaching lessons, they need an endorsement for that.  The underwriter should ask a copy of their documentation to make sure they are legal.  They will most likely ask for a current survey of the vessel to make sure it is in acceptable condition. 

Getting back to the telltale indicator of a commercial vessel, if they do not have the vessel name on the bow, there is a high chance that it is not a commercial vessel.  Moreover, if it is not a commercial vessel, they are most likely not properly insured.

 You can be confident that when you book a sailing charter, sailing lesson, or powerboat lesson with SeaAffinity, the vessel you are on is legal and properly insured for your safety.

New Coast Guard Requirement

A new ECOSL law goes into effect on April 1st and it’s no joke. How does this law affect you? In all honesty, it shouldn’t! You should already be using it.
The new requirement (https://coastguardnews.com/coast-guard-announces-new-law-requiring-use-of-engine-cut-off-switches/2021/03/10/) amends Section 4312 of title 46 (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/46/4312) that mandated ECOSLs on all new boats under 26 feet that develop 115 pounds of thrust. (115 pounds of thrust is roughly equivalent to 2-1/2 hp)ECOS

What is an ECOSL?

The ECOSL is a Engine Cut-Off Switch Link. That’s the “kill cord” or “safety lanyard”, or whatever you call the coily red thing that connects you to the helm of your boat.

What does an ECOSL do?

Essentially, It turns off the engine of you fall overboard.
This seems like a no brainer. You wear this, you accidently fall overboard, it kills the engine, you swim back and get on your boat.

So why don’t people wear them?

Great question! They are inconvenient. The conventional safety lanyard gives you about two feet of movement before it pops off and kills the engine. As you reach for a dock line or retrieve something else. Pop, the engine is off.

Another problem is that they are had to put on. Most lanyard come with a little metal clip that is too small to clip on anything. Or, they are just too hard to squeeze to clip on and off. It not metal, they are plastic and break the first time your try to clip them on.
Possibly, the most frustrating reason people do not wear them is that they get tangled around the steering wheel. You’re making some quick maneuvers because you’re in a tight situation and you’re trying to get our and suddenly the lanyard is wrapped around the wheel and the engine is off. Not fun!

Our solution to these is making it easy to get the lanyard on and off. That makes us more likely to wear it. We have added a small carabineer on the end of the lanyard. We use that to connect to a life jacket strap or a belt loop. (What? You’re not wearing a life jacket? We will address that at another time. ) Attaching the lanyard to mid-section of the body helps to keep it out of the steering wheel.

New technology has appeared over the last few year that provides this same function in a wireless connection (FellMarine – https://buy.fellmarine.com/collections/mob-wireless-man-overboard-system). The operator wears a silicone bracelet and if it is too far from the receiver, it shuts the engine off. No more lanyard to wrap around things.

Do we really need this law?

We shouldn’t, but apparently we do. Every year, more and more people are injured or killed in boating accidents that could have easily been prevented. Is this law going to prevent all deaths related to run-away boats? No. In my opinion, the law has a major flaw. The ECOSL is only required when the boat is moving above displacement speed. Yes, that makes it convenient for leaving and returning to the dock and things like anchoring. However, many accidents arise from situations at idle speed or even when the boat is in neutral.

There have been many accidents and even deaths that resulted from the throttle being accidently engaged. The resulting force throwing the operator from the boat. I have witnessed this. I was assisting a small sailboat when its boom hit and engaged the throttle. Fortunately, it did not throw me from the boat (even though I was wearing the engine cut-off lanyard. I have heard reports about others who were n0t so fortunate because they were not wearing the lanyard.

The US Coast Guard has put together a FAQ page to help you understand the new requirement – https://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/engine-cut-off-switch-faq.php

While this new requirement should help, it would be best if we all put the ECOSL on before we start the engine and leave it on as long as the engine is running. The life you save may not be your own. You may have to live with the fact that your refusal to wear it, took the life of someone else. Just wear it!

Want to learn more ways to be safe on the water?  Consider our hands-on Powerboat Training!


Learn to sail

Learn to SailHow long does it take to learn to sail? We hear that question frequently.  In a sense, it is a hard question to answer because there are so many variables.  We have a short answer, which we will share in just a moment, but first, we want to show why it is a hard question to answer.

First, what do you mean by ‘sail’?  One of the appealing aspects of sailing is that it is not just one thing.  Sailing really covers a broad spectrum of activities centered around a sailboat.  Dinghy racing, keelboat racing, day sailing, weekend cruising, and long-range cruising are a few of them.  All sailing, but all different.  Add in foiling sailboats and we move into a completely new dimension.  Windsurfing also fits in here; remember the first windsurf boards were called sailboards. 

For our question, we will assume day sailing since learning to day sail can really lay the foundation for most of the other variations.  So, how long does it take to learn to day sail?  Again, what do you want to be able to do?  That is one of the first questions we ask our students.  We think it is important because we strive to meet their goals.  If all they want to do is to have a basic understanding of what is going on and be able to competently help out on someone else’s boat, what, and how, we teach is going to be different than what we teach to someone that wants to single-hand a cruising boat down the coast.

Continue reading “How long does it take to learn to sail?”

The History of SeaAffinity

PassionIt is hard to pin an exact date and time to our beginning of the concept of SeaAffinity. Yes, we can pin the exact date to the incorporation of the organization – February 8, 2012. However, our beginning started long before then.

Before we get into too much of the history of SeaAffinity and its formation, I want to give you a little background on me, Steve Maddox; to tell you who I am and how that played into the starting of SeaAffinity.

First, I am dyslexic and have a degree of ADD. It is hard for me to stay focused on the right thing at the right time. I think that is why I can easily empathize with many of the students we interact with. There are so many distractions in the classroom and in life. Learning how to focus yourself to complete the task at hand is a challenge. Continue reading “Our Beginning”