As part of the slip rental agreement with Dana Point Harbor, every boat is required to have a safety inspection performed within 30 days of arrival. Like Long Beach, the personnel in the office are very pleasant and accommodating. They were easy to work with in setting up a slip and a few days before I was to arrive, they handled all of my paperwork and I knew I had a home to come to after moving the Excalibur up from San Diego.
Because I hadn’t planned on using the boat much the spring after I arrived, I removed almost everything from the boat to give me more room to accomplish some projects. A little over thirty days went by and I received a call from the slip office reminding me that I still needed to get an inspection done on the boat per our earlier agreement.
“It’s not really something to worry about. It’s a simple inspection to make sure your boat is safe and is performed by volunteers in the harbor,” she explained.
I looked over the list of names that I was given and called a few and left messages. One called back and said he no longer volunteered and another had moved out of town. The third call I got back was from a man named Frank and he was available almost immediately. We made an appointment for the following Saturday morning and agreed to meet at 0900.
I didn’t think much of the inspection throughout the week. My boat was safe. It had just transported me over two days without issue. I expected “a simple inspection to make sure my boat was safe” by a volunteer, another boat owner, and was completely unprepared for what it really was.
Frank, a Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer, met me at the gangway entrance gate. Where I expected a man in shorts and topsiders, what I greeted was completely different – another story. He wore his blue uniform with shiny black boots. He had an un-inflated air chamber PFD around his neck and waist, held a clipboard, and introduced himself by his first name. My idea of the inspection shifted from that of a simple look over of things to that of being boarded at sea by a huge orange cutter.
“My name’s Todd,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
I paused before walking down the gangway.
“Frank, I want to apologize. If this goes the way I’m thinking it will, this is gonna be a waste of your time. I expected something different and am not prepared for this this morning.”
“What makes you think that?” he asked.
“If the office would have told me to prepare the boat like I was going to sea, I would have. But I haven’t, and I’m not ready. I’m sorry.”
“Well,” he said. “We can do it anyway. I like the opportunity to teach, and if you’re open to it, you might learn something.”
“All right. But please understand, I’m really organized and this is kind of embarrassing for me.”
He just looked at me and gave me a crooked half-smile as we walked past several boats on the way to the Excalibur.
“Now, which one’s your boat?”
“The blue one, down on the right.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I came down here earlier just to get a look at things….Stop here.”
We stopped. I knew he wasn’t going to comment on her clean lines or say she stood out because she wasn’t white like most of the other boats slipped nearby.
“There’s a problem right off the bat. Do you see it?”
While I knew that my boat wasn’t perfect, from 100 feet away, I wondered what he was referring to.
“Regulations say that the vessel state registration ID numbers have to be permanently attached, three inches in height or greater and of a contrasting color. Yours appear to be three inches, I guess they’re technically contrasting….if you consider shiny blue over dull blue contrasting. They can’t fall off, so I guess they’re permanent.”
I couldn’t disagree with him. I knew that I needed new CF stickers and had planned on buying a new set before leaving the harbor again. The number could be made out, however, and that allowed me to justify moving it that way to Dana Point.
“For your boat, you should really have black or maybe white. You can buy lettering at a hardware store or have a set made.”
“I know,” I started. “I’m planning on having a set made up before I go anywhere. Anything else wrong from here?”
“No,” he said.
I led, and Frank followed me the rest of the way. I could hear and feel his boots clopping along behind me. I’d wished I’d done a lot of things differently and been ready for something like this. I knew if I had set up the boat like I was travelling, I would pass whatever he threw at me. Instead, I felt inadequate in my old clothes and tennis shoes while he walked along behind me looking crisp, official and diligent.
When we got to the bow I saw a mixture of dew and dirt that made the cabin top and decks look really dirty. I’d wished I had come down early to wash the Excalibur. I unclipped the starboard lifeline and climbed into the cockpit.
“Permission to come aboard?” Frank asked.
Nope, I thought. I still have some control over this. You’ve caught me with my pants down and it’s completely my fault, but if I don’t want you on my boat, I can say no, and you can stand there and watch me stand in my boat.
“Absolutely,” I said.
“My boots are non-marking,” Frank said.
He sat on the cockpit bench, opened his clipboard and arranged an official looking form onto the surface.
“Now,” he said. “May I see your ownership and registration documents?”
“They’re not here.”
“They’re not. You do know that you are supposed to keep them on board at all times, don’t you?”
“I do know that. And I do have them all. I keep them in a notebook with all of my documents together. I keep the notebook in a back pack that has all of my safety gear. The back pack’s at home.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “We’ll move onto lights. Please turn on your lights and show me what lights you have and explain configurations in different situations.”
“My battery isn’t on board. It’s at home on the charger. Right now I’m bringing it back and forth whenever I go out. The outboard has an alternator, so it charges when I run the engine, but I don’t keep the boat plugged into shore power and I charge the battery at home.”
“Okay, so navigation lights are a ‘No.’ Can you explain to me what lights you require?”
I explained the lights the Excalibur was equipped with and their function and got pretty much everything correct. The boat is not equipped with a mid-mast steaming light and Frank explained that I should plan on adding one to be legal if I was operate at night under motor alone, especially when entering a large port. He double-checked the requirements to make sure that a steaming light was necessary, but when he could not find a definitive answer, suggested to do it anyway. We studied the regulations further and found that if I changed my light switches, and had the bow nav lights on one switch, the stern light on another, and the 360 mast light on a third, I would be legal. When steaming at night, I could turn off the stern light and use the bow nav lights and 360 mast light and be legal.
“How about a sound producing device?”
“I have two air horns and a whistle in my back pack.”
“Your back pack that’s at home?” he asked.
“Okay, onto Personal Flotation Devices. Do you have any of those on board?”
“Yes,” I said. “I have several here, including a child size and my inflatable.”
I pulled out the pack of PFDs and set them out for his inspection. I had eight in all. After a brief inspection of each one, Frank finally checked a “Yes” on his document. The flare kit was in the locker next to the PFDs, so I set it aside.
“Onto fire extinguishers. Do you have one or more?”
The fire extinguisher was set into the sink, not mounted onto a bulkhead. Frank inspected it, determined that it wasn’t discharged or expired and said, “You’re supposed to have this mounted. The reason isn’t just because it should be mounted, it’s so you know where it is in an emergency and you’ll know it will always be there. You knew where it was and got to it quickly, but mounted would be better. Also, it’s not listed here, but I’m going to suggest that it’s mounted in a place that’s near the cabin entrance so you can use it in the cabin, even if a fire’s started somewhere below. Some people mount it so far into the cabin that a fire could get between them and the extinguisher. That’s not good.”
“I understand,” I said.
“Visual Distress Signals. What do you have for inland signals? Do you have a flag or a light source?”
“Yes. I have a flag and a flashlight in my back pack.”
“Okay, no visual VSDs on board. Let’s take a look at the flare kit.”
I opened the flare kit and presented its contents to Frank.
“Oh, Todd. This isn’t gonna work. These look like highway flares and they might be as old as the boat. These other flares are correct and would meet minimum standards, but they’re expired. See the date, here….and here. Not badly expired, but still expired. Do you have any other flares?”
“Yes. In my back pack. I have a flare gun kit.”
“Is this the same back pack?”
“Okay,” he said. “VDS is a ‘no’.”
He checked another box.
“Ventilation. You have an outboard, right?”
“Where do you keep your fuel tank?”
“Next to the engine on the stern, near the rail.”
“Okay. No inboard. No built-in fuel tanks. Do you keep fuel below?” he asked.
“Okay. That looks good. That covers ventilation, backfire and fuel checks.”
“What do you have for anchors onboard?”
I pulled out both of my anchors and showed them to Frank. I identified the anchor line and told him I had 150 feet of line and forty feet of chain rode.
“I didn’t have room in my back pack for these,” I said, trying to crack a joke.
Frank looked up at me, paused, and said, “Nope. I guess you wouldn’t.”
“Do you keep any other method of propulsion aboard. To be legal, you’re fine with the outboard and sails, but I have to ask.”
“Yes. I’ve got an oar in the port cockpit locker,” I told him.
“Okay. How about a bilge pump or other dewatering device?”
I showed him the manual bilge pump, demonstrated that it worked and then pointed out my back up hand pump and then a bucket.
“Good,” he said. “No electric pump?”
“Not currently,” I answered. “I’ve considered it and will probably add one, but I’d rather have a working pump that I work rather than one that relies on a battery that could go dead.”
“Sound thinking. For a lot people, the difference between sinking and not sinking was a bucket and a sponge. Now, the electrical system seems okay. Pretty sparse, but okay. Circuit protection on the switches, but you might consider a fuse panel near the battery bank as well as the protected switches. It passes, though.”
He checked a few boxes with a “yes.”
“You don’t have a heater in the cabin, do you?”
“How about a head?”
“The fixed head was removed and I have a porta-potty in its place. There are no holding tanks on board.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “Almost done.”
He stood up in the cockpit and looked into the cabin one more time.
“Do you have a radio?”
“Yes,” I said. “I use a hand held. It’s in my back pack.”
“Hmmm. The back pack. You use a hand held?”
“For now,” I said. “When I re-do the interior wiring I plan to put in a permanent unit.”
Frank and I spent the rest of the morning talking. He quizzed me on a few things but the bulk of our conversation was just talking. We talked about the coast and Dana Point and a little about my trip up from San Diego. He gave good advice and presented it in a way that was not preaching–just sharing experiences he’d had and related them to how they might help me.
I did learn some new things and felt like the whole experience was actually made better by me not being prepared for his inspection. If I’d had everything in perfect order before he came, we could have easily slid through the inspection and he’d have given me the results and then moved on to whatever he had planned for the rest of his day. Instead, it opened us up to other discussions that really did help me.
I didn’t pass the inspection and didn’t get the CG sticker that I wanted, but did know exactly what I needed to do to pass it and used the knowledge gained that morning to re-do my paperwork and checklists to more closely match the one Frank used that morning and I feel better prepared each time I use it before I pull out of my slip.