On the evening of July 5, Lincoln and McCormick counties put on another Thunder Over Thurmond fireworks show. It was spectacular, as usual, and I'm sure the one at Little River was as well.
The event continued well into a very dark evening, and there were hundreds of boats vying for a limited anchoring and drifting area. Let me say up front that I was very pleased with the conduct of most recreational boaters during the Thunder event. There were very few speeders, and most captains exhibited caution and courtesy.
The main issue I observed was the confusion of boats' lights after dark. At night, a boat's lighting provides the main signals to help avoid a collision.
Navigation rules state that the length of a boat determines what lighting is required. Most of our boats are shorter than 39.4 feet and thus require a red and green sidelight, usually located on the bow, and an all-around white light at the stern.
These sidelights are visible to another boat approaching from the side or head-on. The red light indicates a boat's port (left) side, and green indicates a boat's starboard (right) side.
This system displays what direction the other boat is moving in relation to us.
- With a boat coming directly toward us, we see both a red and green light with a white light usually in the center and higher.
- If we see only a white light, it means the other boat is ahead of us and proceeding on about the same course.
- The side view that shows us a red light with a white one to its right means the boat is crossing our path from right to left.
- If we see a green light with the white one to its left, it means the boat is crossing our path from left to right.
These lights are usually operated by a switch at the helm station and easily used by the crew member driving the boat. Most switches are what we call a "rocker switch." The switch is marked "Nav" on one side and "Anchor" on the other.
- When it is centered, all lights are off.
- When rocked to the "Nav" side, it turns on the sidelights and the all-around white stern light.
- When rocked to the "Anchor" side, it turns on the white stern all-around light as an anchor light.
The navigational lighting, or anchor light, needs to be turned on from sunset to sunrise or in conditions of limited visibility. It was heartening to see most boaters turn their lights on at dusk.
When your boat is not anchored, aground or otherwise attached to land, you must have all three navigation lights operating. When you are just drifting, you are still underway and must have these lights on. When you are anchored, then only the anchor light should be on.
Now here is where it got really messy at the Thunder event. Many anchored boats had their navigation lights on, even while they were at anchor. This made it very difficult to tell if these boats were at anchor or underway. Their lights told me they were not anchored and, believe me, they were.
The other lighting problem that occurred with only a few boaters was they had their "docking" lights on while at anchor and even underway. These bright, headlight-type lights, which should only be used when docking, tend to blind all approaching boaters. It's definitely a no-no!
Learn more about all aspects of being a better boater and come to the next Army Corps of Engineers/Coast Guard Auxiliary boating class. It is scheduled for Aug. 2 at the Thurmond Dam Visitors' Center. For information, contact me or call Jay Weidman at (800) 533-3478, ext. 1172, or by e-mail at john.c.weidman@ sas02.usace.army.mil.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170 or at email@example.com.
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