Monday, February 19, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

November 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

We pulled away from the dock behind our house shortly after sunrise on a clear, calm August morning and entered the canal to join friends for a cruise. My wife and guests were drinking coffee in our 35-foot Chris Craft Catalina aft cabin while I was at the helm. We met up with Bob and company, who took the lead in his 31-foot Sea Ray Express cruiser. It looked like a beautiful day for our first long trip!

We traveled across the Great South Bay and entered the Atlantic through the Fire Island Inlet. With two to three foot seas, a following wind, and a cloudless sky, it was a very easy run to the Shinnecock Inlet to the locks — that spot where locals share legendary passage stories (many intimidating and sometimes terrifying).

As we approached the locks and saw they were open, we had a simple plan:  Bob would go through first and I would follow. The glitch in our simple plan was that I was following Bob too closely as he observed the 5 miles per hour speed limit within the lock. Before I knew it, I was rapidly approaching Bob’s stern!

As I slowed down so as to avoid a collision with Bob, I encountered a 12-knot west to east current, which immediately threw my boat to starboard and directly at the canal wall. I set my boat hard astern to avoid the wall, and as I transitioned from ahead to astern my port engine died. Fortunately, my starboard engine held and pulled us back into the center of the channel, allowing us to drift south back toward the bay.

As my pulse returned to normal, we reassessed the situation. Finding no damage to the boat, we turned north and approached the locks again. This time, no one was ahead of us, so as I got close to that menacing cross current, I throttled up, pushing through the current and into the lock. Once in the lock, steering straight into the current was much easier, and we made it safely to the north end of the canal.

In hindsight, as a first-timer, I should have planned better by getting experienced boaters’ insight into navigating the canal and locks. I should have taken note of the 10-knot current running from north to south and the 12-knot current running west to east at the south end of the lock, and Bob and I should have been in constant communication to plan for the conditions. Of course, I also should have understood that more spacing between boats was required. I know all these things now; part of boating is learning to handle a variety of situations. With education, every boater can be a safer, more competent boater.

By Daniel L. Flinn

Daniel Flinn is a past commander of the Jones Beach Power Squadron. In his opinion, the United States Power Squadrons (USPS) has the finest curriculum of courses and seminars for recreational boaters. See for yourself at and   


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