Small Business Success: Education, safety key for summer recreational boating
As the recreational boating season revs up, Mystic licensed captain Nicholas Alley navigates instinctively toward safety.
“Out on the water, it is apparent that recreational boating has surged during the pandemic and shows no sign of slowing down,” Alley says. He adds that the resulting increase in waterway congestion makes boater education and safe practices all the more important. For that reason, he formed Nicholas Alley Marine (nalleymarine.com) in Mystic on Jan. 1.
Alley’s firm offers private boating lessons on customers’ vessels, group classes at their sailing or yacht clubs, and land-based, one-on-one instruction. With 40 years of captaining everything from tall ships to tug boats, Alley has a 500-ton Ocean Master’s License.
He learned his craft from practical experience, in seafaring lingo “coming up through the hawsepipe.” The hawsepipe is the tube through which an anchor chain is raised and lowered, and the expression means you learned the trade by starting as a deckhand and climbing the ladder of responsibility over many years up to captain, sitting for license exams for progressively larger vessels.
Before founding his business, Alley worked for Mystic Seaport for a decade, both on the water, such as small-boat training for shipyard workers, and on shore, serving as Manager of Waterfront Operations. Although he has vast knowledge and experience in the marine industry, his current venture is his first attempt at owning and running a business.
Just six months in, preliminary results are encouraging.
He was a captain in a leadership program in Grenada for the Sea Education Association (S.E.A.), headquartered in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and will conduct an S.E.A. program this summer for high school students on its tall ship the Corwith Cramer, a brigantine. Nick is also developing programs to teach high school students about sailing and power boating for a group forming in Oyster Bay, New York.
Nick has also provided consulting services to Discovering Amistad in New Haven. The organization uses a replica of the top-sail schooner where the most famous slave-ship uprising in American history occurred to teach about justice, freedom, and human rights. He has advised on care and operation of the vessel and captained it on transits port to port.
Alley says that his business mentor, Frank LaMonaca, president of the Southeastern Connecticut (SECT) Chapter of SCORE (sect.score.org), has provided valuable guidance and advice in launching his first entrepreneurial venture. SCORE is a nationwide, nonprofit association and resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration that offers free, confidential advice to small-business owners.
Alley starts new boaters off with basic rules of the waterway, analogous to drivers’ rules of the road, with the important proviso that the rules differ slightly between inland waterways and ocean (international) waters. It is important to know your boating environment.
Right-of-way is key. When two craft approach each other head-on, both should steer to the starboard side (right). Make your turn – and indeed all directional changes designed to avoid collisions – early and obvious. When two craft approach at right angles, the rule is the same as for automobiles coming to a four-way stop: The craft on the right has the right of way.
As soon as you perceive you are on a collision course with the side of a boat, even if that craft is far off, slow down. A single toot or beep on your horn tells the other captain, “I intend to turn to starboard.” Two beeps: I intend to turn to port.” Three beeps: “I’m operating astern (reverse) propulsion.” Five or more beeps: “Danger/doubt. I do not understand you. Please indicate your intentions or correct yourself.”
Passing a vessel. When overtaking a vessel, one short beep on your horn means, “I intend to pass on your starboard side.” Two short beeps means, “I intend to pass on your port side.”
Hierarchy of Control. Learn the vessel hierarchy, defined by the degree of control the captain has over his or her craft. In general, a power boat captain has greater control than a sail boat captain, and so, with a greater ability to avoid a collision, has a greater responsibility to do so.
If you are captain of a sailboat, remember that when you turn on your engine to enter or leave a harbor, your craft becomes a powerboat, and so your responsibility for avoiding collisions increases.
Summary: Powerboat gives way to sail boat. Sailboat gives way to boat engaged in fishing (It may be dragging nets). Fishing boat gives way to ship with restricted ability to maneuver. Vessel with restricted ability to maneuver gives way to vessel not under command, i.e., one where a mechanical malfunction, perhaps an engine breakdown, is disrupting the captain’s control.
Life jackets. Bring one in the proper size for everyone on the boat. Make sure all adults know where they are stored and how to put them on themselves and all children aboard.
Check weather reports. Always.
Pack an emergency kit. See sidebar for recommended contents.
Alcohol. The captain of even a small boat must drink absolutely no alcoholic beverages and indulge in no mind-altering drugs. Not a single can of beer. Not a single joint.
Single most important safety tip: Take professional instruction, pass the written exam, and earn your safe-boating certificate before setting sail. (This is mandatory in Connecticut for all powerboats and for sailboats 19.5 feet or more in length, although not in Massachusetts or Rhode Island.)
Alley puts it this way: “You wouldn’t let your teenage son or daughter drive off in the family car with no lessons, no practice, and no license. Why would you set sail that way?”
Hugh M. Ryan is a certified mentor for the Southeastern Connecticut chapter of SCORE. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Business people interested in connecting with a SCORE mentor can do so via sect.score.org/content/find-mentor-174.