Listening session addresses boaters’ navigational aid concerns

LONG BEACH—Representatives from three major marine-related agencies presented individual outlooks on the future of navigational aids and its effects on recreational boaters during a special listening session at the Hyatt Regency’s Shoreline Ballroom, June 17.

Part of a nationwide campaign to gain a better grasp of the boating public’s input on the current state of both physical and virtual electronically produced aids to navigation (ATONs), the gathering, titled “Future of Navigation: 21st Century Waterways,” presented officials from the. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with a platform to both listen and be heard.

Mike VanHouten of the Coast Guard’s Aid to Navigation branch and Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Salas each addressed the audience on uses of ATONS and responded to comments about the San Diego Approach Lighted Whistle buoy (SD-1). The buoy, which sunk to the ocean floor March 14, has yet to be replaced and cannot be retrieved until September at the earliest.

“Originally when we were examining the seacoast aids around California, the San Diego buoy was a buoy that we were wondering how exactly it was used by the boating public,” Salas said. “When it went missing, we immediately tried to get a synthetic aid out there to at least provide something. We didn’t have a physical hull readily available. Now we’re actually looking at replacing that when we can.”

Salas’ presentation covered the Coast Guard’s role and purpose in relation to ATONs. He said the idea of having synthetic ATONs is to augment physical aids. He also stressed that physical aids will not be eliminated.

“We understand the advancements in electronic charting changes,” Salas said. “We’d like for the boating public to be aware of those changes and be able to apply them smartly.”

While a representative from the Corp of Engineers discussed dredging tactics, Gerald Wheaton, NOAA’s California Regional Navigation manager, presented information on the transformation and enhancements of nautical charts. Highlighting NOAA’s new print-on-demand service, he explained PDF versions of nautical charts and Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC) are available online now for the first time.

More than 25 boaters and stakeholders—some from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Santa Barbra— expressed their concerns on outages within electronic systems, GPS hacking, boater safety certification and transparency of Notice to Mariners distribution.

“I think we got a good first start at taking a look at different ways to inform the small boating community about things that are occurring,” Wheaton said. “For example, at NOAA we have a lot of technology and internet stuff that may be useful. New ways of looking at tides and currents and nautical charts are available—which we talked about—on the internet for free.”

Capt. Ann Kinner, owner of San Diego-based Seabreeze Books and Charts, addressed representatives for more than 15 minutes. Kinner said the night before the listening session she attempted to locate the SD-1 buoy with her on-board systems.

“The radar was limited by the fact that it can only display what it can see,” she said. “There’s a hill between me and SD-1 called Point Loma. My Raymarine navigation system would not let me zoom into the area where the buoy should be. It kept centering me on my boat, which made it a bit of a challenge to get any kind of information about what was out there.”

She added that her Nobeltec system failed to communicate with any AIS systems.

“That highlights the problem of machinery that doesn’t work when you need it to,” Kinner said. “That was one of my points. Ok, you can have all these toys if they’re all working and you’re in range and you know how to use them and you know what you’re looking for. But do you have good information?”

Kinner also critiqued the agencies dissemination of information to recreational boaters in the area. Using the SD-1 buoy as an example, she said when she explored both the Coast Guard and Notice to Mariners’ website, she received conflicting information.

“I don’t know if they realized that was the case,” Kinner said. “There’s a disconnect between what they think is going to work for the maritime community and what the maritime community is trying to do in order to get around the point safely and not run into the rocks.”

The Long Beach listening session was part of two conferences hosted in California. Recreational boaters who attended will be able to take an online survey to provide detailed feedback. The survey is scheduled to be available on the Coast Guard Navigational Center’s website before the beginning of July, according to Salas.

“We’re going to be compiling our report and presenting it to our headquarters for evaluation,” Salas said.


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