Previously, we talked about cell phones aboard boats and the issues thereto. But they are fantastic devices – and therein lay another issue. As the functionality of cell phones starts to rival computers (did I say “rival” – I should have said “outpaces!”), we are right at the cusp of technology overload. This can’t be good for safety of life at sea. This column is about that.

U.S. Coast Guard Advisory

On October 29, 2010, Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft, Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security, and Stewardship issued a maritime advisory on the use of cell phones aboard. In part, Marine Safety Advisory 01-10 said, “The potential risk associated with improper use of cellular telephones and other devices in the marine environment while navigating or performing other vessel functions should be apparent to vessel owners and operators.  Consequently, the Coast Guard strongly recommends vessel owners and operators to develop and implement effective operational policies outlining when the use of cellular telephones and other devices is appropriate or prohibited.”

This is true across all jurisdictions, land, sea and air. And cell phones can certainly be game-changers (good and bad) for the mariner. This situation has created a new class of problem: Distracted Operations.

Information Overload vs Expanded Awareness

Even in my own operational facility, CGAUX 251384, I have two “desk mounted” radios (USCG requirement for an operational facility), and a spare handheld radio for mobile operations. All three are mounted overhead. In the “dashboard,” there is a multi-function screen through which is filtered real time GPS information, AIS, radar (overlaid on top of each other in a layered, color-coded fashion) and a forward-looking-infrared camera in an adjacent window. I will admit this is right at the edge of my “comprehensibility.” If a crewman is asking questions, or more importantly passing information, while something critical is being presented either over the radio or on the screen, it is imperative to have the ability to parse information and/or the authority to delegate – and quickly. Now, with that said, the resultant river of data can, in the right hands, provide a heightened “situational awareness” that adds up to a safer vessel. This is in fact why I installed the gear. But the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Advisory 01-10 is a wake-up call to mariners, this one included.

Heads Up

Let’s think this through a bit. First, technology is neither a panacea nor a substitute for seamanship skills. Technology is there to make what was time-consuming (e.g. GPS charting versus pencil-and-parallel-rulers) easier and/or faster or to provide a quantum leap beyond human capabilities (e.g. radar). But all these tools are not worth their weight as ballast if the skipper doesn’t know what basic seamanship skills to employ with them.

Secondly, you have to get – and keep – your priorities straight. When the cell phone rings, why answer it while underway? There is voice-mail, you know. And, it would be a simple procedure to implement within your family household that if there was something urgent, call twice – if the same telephone number comes up twice, you know to answer it now. And give someone the helm while you do.

Thirdly, when was the last time you took a boating safety class? There are plenty of good ones out there that can be taken right up to the level of an experienced skipper. No one knows what they don’t know – and the advanced classes are full of fellow skippers. Not everything worth learning is in the manuals. Passing time while accumulating the latest scuttlebutt is an ancient, honored and useful maritime tradition…from long before there was anything remotely like cell phone.

PS – The Rear Admiral mentioned at the start of the column, RADM Paul Zukunft, eventually became the 25th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. So, heeding his advice sounds like a good idea!

If you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at DSO-HR and we will help you “get in this thing…” ■

The Captain of the Port and Sector Commander for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound is Captain Eva Van Camp Schang. CAPT Van Camp Schang is responsible for all active-duty, reservist and auxiliary Coast Guard personnel within the Sector. As a Commodore in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary First District, Southern Region, Vin Pica works closely with CAPT Van Camp Schang and her staff to promote boating safety in the waters between Connecticut, Long Island and 200 nautical miles offshore. Sector Long Island Sound Command Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 203-468-4401.

Editor’s note: Weekly updates for the waters from Eastport, ME to Shrewsbury, NJ including discrepancies in Aids to Navigation, chart corrections and waterway projects are listed in the USCG Local Notice to Mariners. Log onto, scroll to “Current Operational/Safety Information,” click on “Local Notice to Mariners” then “LNMs by CG District,” and click on “First District.”