Does your boat have a sound-producing device...?
And can anyone hear it?
By Wayne Spivak,
Branch Chief – National Press Corps
National Marketing and Public Affairs Department, United States Coast
The title of this article sounds
ridiculous doesn't it? Even like a pun! But it's a very valid
question. Does your vessel have a sound-producing device?
What is a 'sound-producing
device', and why as a boater should I really care? Bob Dylan knew;
"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. The answer is blowin'
in the wind." (Blowin' In The Wind). And again, it may sound
like a pun, but its not.
Without a properly operating sound
device, like a whistle, a horn and/or a bell, your vessel, besides
being out of compliance with federal regulations, is just not a
well-founded vessel. In fact, without a properly operating sound
device, you're placing you and your passengers in what could be grave
According to the latest edition of
the Navigation Rules (COMDTINST M16672.2D), all vessels greater than x
feet are required to have a sound-producing device. Most recreational
boats are required to have a whistle or horn capable of being heard ?
mile away (Rule 33.b and Annex III (C)).
In addition, the Rules (Rule 32)
state that to qualify as a whistle, that the sound producing device be
capable of providing the following signals: "(b) The term "short
blast" means a blast of about one second's duration. (c) The term
"prolonged blast" means a blast of from four to six seconds'
Since most of the whistles and/or
horns that are used in/on recreational boats are directional in
nature, the Rules require these devices face forward on a boat, so the
sound will carry and disperse in the general direction of the boat
(most boats use astern propulsion very very sparingly).
There are five basic sound signals
a boater should know. I will briefly outline them. Should you require
more information on sound signals and the Rules of the Road, the Coast
Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary recommend that you take an appropriate
safe boating course. The Coast Guard Auxiliary provides several
courses, which include this information, as well as our Boat Crew
program for members of the Auxiliary.
Sound signals are broken into two
types, long and short blasts. Short blast lasts for 1 to 3 second and
a long blast from 4 to 6 seconds.
You will normally hear these sets
of sound signals:
1 short blast and 2
short blasts which signify intent and acceptance in overtaking
Three (3) short blasts
signifying a vessel in astern propulsion (as when a boat is backing
out of a slip)
Five (5) short blasts,
which signifies danger or disagreement.
One long blast, which is
meant as a warning that I am about to move from a position, which
may be blind to you. You'll use/hear this signal when your about to
leave a slip (either in forward or astern propulsion), where the
master of the vessel is blind to possible approaching traffic from
the main waterway or as you are about to round bend in a waterway
(like a river).
The Why's and Wherefore's
Why sound signals important? On
your car, you have both a horn and turn signals. With these signals,
which generally can be seen during most hours of the day and night,
you provide in advance, to the other drivers, your intent to turn.
Your turn signals tell the other
drivers one of three things; your turning right or left, or there is
some sought of danger or hazard (when both sets of signals are on). On
your vessel, navigation lights are in either the on position or off
position. In addition, the ability to see navigation lights during the
day is extremely limited. Thus, sound signals were devised to provide
mariners with intent. This intent includes the ability to pass an
individual vessel on either the port or starboard side.
Again, on your car you have a
horn. Besides being used to vent your frustration with other drivers,
the horn has some specific legal and safety uses. Included in these
uses are to warn pedestrians and other vehicles to danger or dangerous
situations. As well as to signify that your vehicle is exiting an
area, where you the driver cannot see.
These uses exactly match the five
short blasts, which is the danger signal, the three short blasts
signifying astern propulsion and the one long blast signifying
transiting an area where the master of the vessel is blind to possible
Sound signals play an extremely
important part in the safety of boaters. This is one of the reasons
Vessel Examiners conducting a Coast Guard Auxiliary Vessel Safety
Check will make sure your sound producing device works (as well as all
your safety equipment).
To learn more about navigation,
the rules of the road, or to request a Vessel Safety Checks you can
contact the Coast Guard (http://www.uscg.mil/default.asp)
or your local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla (http://www.cgaux.org).
A little more boating knowledge could just save the life of a loved
[Author's Note: This article is
part of a series of articles on safety and safety equipment
required by Federal law.]