Send your questions or comments via our contact form and we’ll post them here (reserving editorial privilege) with a response so everyone can take advantage of the information.

Dear CB:
I am in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and canoe, kayak & raft in whitewater, flat water & surf.

You have some good information on your web site about Canoe & Kayaking. You might want to add that it is a good idea for beginners to join a local paddling club to learn safety & boat handling technique as well as making new friends. We will not let anyone go on any of our trips unless they have a pfd and wear it. Kayakers should also wear helmets. We also carry additional safety equipment including ropes, saws, beamers, etc. I have seen all this equipment used in actual situations.

CB says: That’s a great tip, Lee, and thanks for lending your expertise. With a growing concern regarding paddle-propelled watercraft safety, this information is timely and valuable.

Commander Bob:
I read your article on the auto-inflatable PFDs. We use them almost exclusively on our patrol boats. We did discover that humidity can cause them to activate. I suggest to anyone that wants to use them to store these off of the boat in a dry area. It is also a good idea to always have on hand at least one re-arming kit for each PFD carried. They cost around $25.00. That may seem expensive, but what is your life worth.

We test ours each year using all three methods of inflation. One other tip… leave them inflated over night. Just because they blow up nice doesn’t mean that the will hold air for a long period of time.

We also found that these PFDs last us about three years. That may not seem like a long time, but we spend around 3000 hours a year on the water. When you figure the $120.00 cost of each unit into the hours they are used the average boater will get years and years of service.

I liked your article about Shooting Charlie Noble. Would you mind if I submitted it to our local Lakes Assoc. for their news letter this Spring?

Sgt. _____ , _____ County Marine Patrol

CB says: That’s great advice, Sergeant. Inflatable PFD’s have lots of advantages, but they also require a bit more TLC, too. And sure, feel free to use the article. All I ask of anyone wanting to use materials from Commander Bob’s is to mention where it came from. If material from my web site can help save a life, or even just provide a little added education, then it will be worth all the effort. Thanks for writing, be careful out there, and calm seas!

Commander Bob:
I was in a very serious PWC accident in ’97 in NC. Ran over by a friend on another PWC, I credit my lifejacket for saving my life. I still operate PWC’s but am extremely wary about riding close to anyone else. Beginning operators must certainly be made aware of the limited steering upon deceleration and of the absence of any type of braking capabilities. Most new riders make mistakes like this right away.

CB says: I really appreciate your writing and sharing this story. You may have just saved someone’s life.

Dear Sir,
I was reading your mailbag when I came on the email about a “Water Knot.” There is actually a knot by this name that can be found in Ashley’s Book of Knots. A water knot is most often used for tying webbing into loops. It can be used to create grab handles for kayaks and anchor points for a boat recovery systems.

To tie a Water knot follow these steps: Tie an overhand knot in one end of a piece of webbing. Retrace the knot in the opposite direction with the other end of the webbing and pull tight. After doing this you should end up with a bight on a overhand knot.

Noah E., SN, USCG

CB says: Thanks a million for clearing that up, Noah. We were all scrambling trying to find out what it was used for and what it looked like.

Commander Bob:
How can I find out the recommended minimum age for a child to be a passenger on a personal watercraft and recommendations for the safest way for a young child to be positioned on the PWC, i.e. sitting in front of the operator or behind. My wife and I disagree whether a 4 year old is too young to be on a PWC and whether it is dangerous for the child to be in front of the operator with the risk that the child could be crushed between the operator and the handle bars if the PWC is thrown forward while in operation. Can you give me some feedback or direct me to a website with this kind of information?

CB says: Great question, but I don’t know the answer. I’d suggest a contact with the nearest Jet Ski or PWC Association and see if they have any guidelines to follow. In the absence of any rules or regulations regarding the age of PWC passengers, I guess it boils down to parental judgement. But on the seating arrangements, I agree that it could be risky for a young child to ride directly behind the handlebars. Any sudden stop, or nosedive into a wake, could potentially create a hazardous condition, it seems to me.

Good luck in finding the information you’re looking for, and if you get an educated opinion, write and let me know what it is. Perhaps one of our visitors can help you out, also. If they can, you gave me permission to suggest they write you at

Commander Bob you rule! I always admired a guy like you who helped with the safety of boats and to make sure everyone was little brother was killed in a boating accident and i havn’t recovered since. Thanks for ensuring the safety of others!
CB says: You know, just when I think I’m spinning my wheels or wasting my time with all the hours I spend on this web site, I get something like this in my mail.

Bobby Joe, your comments about my work are very nice, but you compliment me most by sharing your heartache over the loss of your little brother. God Bless you and your family.

Commander Bob: This is a great website. I have taken the Canadian Power Squadron Course and find your trivia questions most interesting and informative. The research to find the answers provides a wealth of other information that is not only interesting but may prove helpful at some time. Keep up the good work. I refer everyone I know in boating to your web site.
CB says: Thanks. You must be doing a good job of spreading the word about the website, Bob, because I get lots of mail from Canada. Thanks a million, and calm seas.

Commander Bob: I’ve looked at your site many times and I love it. I think you do a great job of hitting on all the “it should be common sense” type issues in the Tips section, as well as the ones that are more obscure but obviously just as important.
I have one suggestion for a change you could make to one of the Tips, and you’ll be horrified that it should even need to be brought up (I know I am). Where you give instructions on locking through, you might want to add that everyone in the boat should REMAIN ON BOARD. At a recent Seafair here in Seattle, a couple of inebriated passengers on a powerboat decided to go swimming in the locks while waiting for operations to begin. No one was hurt, but (obviously) all operations came to an immediate halt as soon as they entered the water, and it took a lot of yelling and threats from the lockmaster to get them back in the boat. Although, now that I think about it, it may be a waste of your time to change the instructions, since I doubt that anyone stupid enough to pull the manuever I mentioned would bother to visit a boating safety website. Anyway, thanks for the great site. We’ve linked to it on our website at

Thanks for all the good work on behalf of boaters everywhere!


CB says: I work part-time at our local locks, Julia, and although I haven’t seen anyone take a swim in the locks yet, I have seen them try to scramble out of the locks and up the ladders to find a much needed restroom. As much as I sympathize with their plight, though, it’s a very dangerous practice to try and leave the boat under ANY circumstances during a locking procedure. Many thanks for reminding us.

Commander Bob: Thanks for having these dive flags displayed on your pages! I find most recreational boaters tend to ignore these markers and distance limits – probably because they don’t know what they are. I’ve also found some boaters even like to use them as stationary targets for their slalom-style runs. I’ve almost had my head taken off a few times by negligent boaters. And it is negligence, and they can be held liable for that negligence. It is virtually impossible for a diver at the surface to observe the boat registration numbers, so I would encourage observers to take note of any violator’s numbers and report them to the proper authorities.
CB says: I really appreciate you reminding us all to be alert for Diver Down flags. As a diver, you know how hairy it can be when you hear the buzz of a propeller getting louder, and you’re only a few feet beneath the surface of the water. And by the way, there’s an article in the Commander Bob archives at the Raytheon Marine website ( on this very subject.

Dear Commander Bob: Very nice and professional pages. I’m a volunteer rescue Captain in the Mediterranean Sea, and we (my friends and I) are saying: this is one of the better web sites about rescue (or maybe the best, but we do not know all) and the better about power boats, recommendations, etc… the best of the best.
Sergi Consol President of the Volunteers of Maritime Rescue

P.S.: excuse me my English but…

CB says: For a compliment like that, Sergi, you can say it however you want…and your English is just fine!

Dear Commander Bob: I am doing some research for the Hawaii PWC Task Force and am trying to locate a definition of “Class A” boat. I am quite sure it exists as we have been teaching that term in Boating Course for years, but no one seems to know where it came from. Can you tell me?
CB says: I have no proof that the following is correct, but here’s what I’ve always believed to be true.

First of all, many states still refer to description of class A, 1, 2, and 3 motorboats in their courses. Most recreational boating statutes, rules, and regulations seem to first divide motorboats into TWO categories. Those less than 16′ in length, and those 16′ and over. These two categories represent the greatest distinction in Federal (and states usually follow) requirements. Therefore, it was decided to make an initial distinction between those two categories by designating the former with an ALPHA designation, and the latter with numeric designations. (Thus “A”, and “some number”.) Then, to a lesser degree of magnitude, there are differences in requirements for boats 16’to 26′, 26′ to 39′, 39′ to 65′, and the NUMERIC designation apply. Thus, we have A, 1, 2, and 3 instead of all numeric or all alpha. Since you specifically mention PWC’s, they are considered to be Class A motorboats, even though there are statutes SPECIFIC to PWC’s which may differ from other Class A motorboats, such as the wearing of PFD’s.

I heard this explanation years ago, and it may be hogwash (nautical term). But I’ve never heard anything else better, or in fact, anything else. If, in your research, you find another explanation, send it to me. And thanks for the great question!

Commander Bob: Should I store signaling flares in the locked cuddy cabin of my 17′ boat or keep them in the boat bag that I take each time I go out?
I suppose the real question is this: during the summer months, does it get too hot to safely store flares in a cuddy cabin that has no air flow when locked? BTW, I live in Maryland, so summer temps outside rarely go above 100 F.

CB says: Technically, I don’t know what the flash point is of the material in the flares you’re using. But I can say that I’ve never heard of an instance of a fire or explosion that has been linked to overheated pyrotechnic safety devices on a vessel.

I would personally prefer to store them on board rather than haul them back and forth in my boat bag. I believe there is less risk in having them secured in a storage locker in the boat, than carrying them around where children or other unknowing persons can get to them.

But for the real technical data on flash points, etc., a phone call or letter to the manufacturer of your signal devices would be the most prudent course of action.

Dear CB: Had to share this with you…
A whole family was caught in a small boat during a sudden storm off the shores of Florida, but towed to safety in Fort Lauderdale by the ever alert U.S. Coast Guard.

“I always knew God would take care of us,” said the composed five year old daughter of the boat owner after the family got home.

“I like to hear you say that,” beamed the mother. “Always remember that God is in His heaven watching over us.”

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about THAT God,” the five year old interrupted. “I was talking about the COAST God.”

dear commander bob: i like the page- but you talk about safety alot- which is fine. but do people actually pay attention?!? even after something serious happenes do they get how dangerous they are….i think there should be courses…but n age limit. i am a perfect example of how an adult gets carried away and a child gets hurt. i almost lost my leg and after 8 months i still can’t walk yet. Now is that fair?
CB says: Some people WILL listen, Meredith. My hope is that everybody that visits the site will take something away with them, regardless of how small, and then someday remember it in time to prevent an accident like yours. Remember that people who visit a site with a topic such as “boating safety” have at least some interest in the subject, and probably are responsible boaters already. It’s the ones that DON’T visit that worry me!

I hope you recover from your accident soon. I’ll be thinking about you.

Commander Bob: First of all, I want to say this is the best site I have found on the net. I am the safety officer for the Champlain Power Squadron in Platssburgh NY area and plan on visiting your site often for ideas for our safety demos, etc. During my visit to the mailbag section I read one of the letters addressed the question of the “water knot”. This knot is shown in the Swedens contribution to your marlinspike section. It says that it is used for joining two lines of the same thickness. I have been using this knot for years and never knew what it was called. Thanks for such a great site.
CB says: Thanks for the great comments about the site.

I find it interesting that you found the answer to a question asked by one of my visitor’s some time ago, by looking at a link from my page. I guess I need to take some time for a closer look at my own links!

Dear Commander Bob: I was happy to get on the internet (on my new computer!) and see your site. Your site is especially helpful to me as one half a year ago I joined the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary and am looking for all the knowledge possible. I am two weeks away from my exam in the Canadian Power Squadron course and in a couple of months I will also be attending a college in Vancouver for Marine Emergency Duties. I have almost achieved my Crew Level I throught the CCGA and I have also gotten a job as a skipper on a whalewatching boat up here in Victoria , British Columbia starting next April… so as you can see,information on any boating safety and expertise is very valuable to me. I have put your Web Site on my favourites list and look forward to future information through it.
CB says: Wow! You are one busy lady. Good luck in all your pursuits, and calm seas.

Dear CB: I have just purchased our families first ski/fish boat. Even though I have spent many years fishing both in the ocean and inland waters I still find myself constantly looking for important boating information. I have 2 children that are good swimmers and good boaters but want them to learn more about boating safety. After viewing your WEB site wanted to say what a great site for information ! I found many useful tips and took the USPS test with success. Keep up the great work.
CB says: Thanks, Michael, and safe boating in that new rig.

Dear CB: Several of us took a boat to a restaurant for an evening meal. A thunderstorm came up, just as we left for home. One of us was confident that we would be safe since the boat is fiberglass and the people in it wouldn’t be grounded. Nevertheless as the storm got more severe, others persuaded him to pull over to the nearest dock. At that point we were in pouring rain, flashing lightning, and we had to grope our way through pitch black up and over unknown terrain to the road. A false step could have meant disaster. Would we have been better off to stay on the lake, with just a mile or two to go? One person says yes, based on “scientific knowledge;” others aren’t so sure.
CB says: Ask two people, Don, (which you apparently did), and you’ll get two answers (which you also apparently did).

Lightning is too unpredictable to guarantee safety in either case. If the bonding system on the boat was sound, and there was a bonded mast or antenna offering a cone of protection with adequate copper grounding to the water, my choice would have been to stay on the boat, I think. The terrain you were crossing, and the conditions, as you’ve described them, in which you landed ashore would have seemed to me to be more precarious than remaining afloat. My assessment would generally be based on probable risk to property vs risk to life and limb. On the water, a strike would PROBABLY have had more risk to the boat and the boat’s equipment and electronics. On shore, the risk seemed more directed toward you and your passengers.

Long answer, but when dealing with lightning there aren’t any short ones….except maybe to avoid being in a lightning situation where possible.

Hi Commander Bob: I live on a small lake private resort lake in Ohio. We have several “no wake” areas for swimming. No one here seems to know what a “no wake” zone is. Could you explain this to me. I know this sounds silly, but I most of us don’t take our boats anywhere but on this lake, and it really is one of our most frequent arguments.
CB says: This is a great question….the term “no wake” is often misunderstood, and may even have local interpretations in in some jurisdictions. Therefore, to be absolutely certain what it means in your jurisdiction, you should consult with the enforcement people in your area.

However, “No Wake” generally means “the slowest possible speed of operation in which there is still steerage.” This speed varies by type and size of boat, of course. I have had some boaters tell me that they hardly throw any wake running wide open, and therefore, they conclude, it would be best for them to run at top speed through a no-wake zone. (Try and get out of a ticket with THAT logic!)

In some parts of the country, the term is expanded to “Slow-No Wake”, but the meaning is usually the same.

Commander Bob: Where can I find information about obtaining a Coast Guard captain’s license?
CB says: You can contact the nearest U. S. Coast Guard Regional Examination Center for forms and information. And now, there is an excellent web site established by the Long Beach Regional Examination Center with the info on-line.

Commander Bob: This place continues to be one of my favorite “hangouts” on the web. You put together a boating enthusiast’s dream page. I love it.
With National Safe Boating Week coming up fast, we have been emphasizing the importance of judging the water depth before jumping in headfirst. Every year we have a rash of really tragic accidents occurring as people, trying to enjoy themselves, jump into shallow water and sustain head and, worse, neck injuries that can wreck a life/lifetime. From an organization called “Think First” (RT) we are taught “feet first, first time” as a mnemonic prior to taking that possibly fatal leap. As in all that we do on the water, a moment of planning sure beats a life of regrets.

Thanks for running such a great page!

CB says: Thanks for the compliments on the page, but thanks a million times more for the reminder about the risks of entering the water head-first.

(I happen to know that the author of this email is a doctor that sees the results of such injuries firsthand, and the effect those injuries have on the victim and their families.)

Thanks, Dr. W….and calm seas.

Hi Commander Bob: I am looking for a knot called the Spider Knot. I cannot find it anywhere online. Could you please send instructions (and picture) if possible explaining how to make this knot?
CB says: I hope somebody out there can help you out, Christian, because I can’t find the Spider Knot in my marlinspike references. Christian’s email address is if anybody can help him.

HI CDR BOB: I’m a new comer to your Trivia page. Good Job!!! A couple of weeks ago you had a question about a “kamal” or some such thing-a-jig. What the heck is that and what book did you get that out of?? Is is similiar to a chip log for measuring speed(before GPS). I teach USPS Piloting and Seamanship classes and am always looking for some additional tid-bits. Thanks and keep up the good work!!
CB Says: First of all, thanks for the nice compliment on the page….

I once had to construct a Kamal in a class. It’s really a neat tool, although explaining it in writing won’t be easy. Let’s give it a try.

Imagine a circle of 360 degrees, with each degree measuring 1 centimeter. The radius of that circle would be 57.3 centimeters. So if you took a common centimeter ruler, and held it exactly 57.3 centimeters from the plane of your eye, you could sight across the ruler in centimeters. In fact, you would be sighting in degrees, since each centimeter equals a degree on the imaginary circle of which the ruler is only a part. Now, let’s suppose you spot a TV broadcasting antenna on shore, and your chart shows it as being 2000 feet tall, or 1/3 nm. Using the Kamal (in our case, a ruler marked in centimeters with a string attached to it’s center which measures 57.3 centimeters, and the other end held in your teeth…which is very close to the plane of your eyes), you extend the Kamal arm’s length (the length of the string) and sight on the tower. You see that the tower is 10 centimeters (10 degrees). We now apply the rule of 60 (angle in degrees= 60 times the arc length or height, all divided by the distance).

Now we can tell our distance from the antenna in nautical miles by taking
(1) the height (2000 ft or about 1/3 nm) in hundreds of feet = 20
(2) divided by the angle in degrees = 10
(3) equals 2 nm off shore (or at least from the antenna)

I hope I remembered this right. Anyway that’s the idea. (Thank goodness for GPS!)

CB says: I hope I didn’t lead you to believe that there was some rocket science going on our our boat, Scott…although some of the best hints are really very simple.

I had mentioned to John earlier in the day that I had a couple of loose fittings below….small screws that had stripped out the wood and weren’t doing much good in their current condition. That afternoon, John brought some wooden toothpicks on board that he had confiscated from a diner at the marina. He broke one of the toothpicks into several little pieces, and fitted the pieces into the screw-hole. When he inserted the screw and tightened it up, the screws held better than when they were new. The screw simply compresses the pieces of toothpick into the sides of the screw-hole and makes a secure fit.

Let me know how it works for you. Calm seas, Scott.

Hello Comander Bob: My name is Miguel ______, I am Comander of the Alcatraz Coast Guard Auxiliary group in Venezuela, we are a group of volunteer men and women adscribed to the Armada de Venezuela (Navy). I liked very much your effort developing this web site. We are starting our Web -Site with the help of the Asociacion Nacional de Marinos Deportivos. Please give us a visit and leave your comments to the webmaster.
CB says: Thanks for the kind words, Commander. The site must still be under construction and not available, because I got a “not found” message. But I’ll try again, and to all other that may be interested, you can hopefully visit Miguel at