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“Hey, why’s that guy honking at me?”

I’m very excited to be busy teaching boating education out on the water and in the classroom. Helping boaters learn both fundamental and advanced boating skills keeps me waking up with a purpose. However, it’s the things I experience while out on the water that keep me up at night.

Based on what I observe on a daily basis, I have come to the conclusion that Florida needs to reexamine its current requirements for operating a vessel. Passing an approved elementary boating education course online or in person, and only if you are operating a vessel with a motor greater than 10 hp, and only if you were born after Jan. 1, 1988, is unequivocally not working and is downright dangerous.

Florida desperately needs to mandate teaching boating education fundamentals both in a classroom and on the water. That education should include a healthy dose of detailed Navigational Rules of the Road (NAVRULES) training and an exam similar to a driving test before a person can operate a vessel. I also believe that USCG-licensed captains should take a refresher exam every 5 years when renewing their credentials.

This week, much to my disappointment, I observed a licensed captain in a no-wake zone with at least 20 boats around him (including mine), intentionally plowing through the water to get enough of a wake to have the dolphins following him jump and play to satisfy his clients and get them cheering. Capt. Knucklehead earned himself a few choice words and select fingers from neighboring boats who were rocked violently by his tsunami wake (keep in mind, Capt. Knucklehead, by law, you are responsible for all damage caused by your wake as outlined in Florida Statutes, Title XXIV, Chapter 327). For his final act of ignorance, he performed a full-throttle run past his critics as he departed the area. Once again, I was disappointed but not surprised.

Just to be clear, I share what I see to capitalize on teachable moments. It’s not my intent to demean other boaters but rather to have them recognize that these teachable moments are not normal, and, in many cases, are very dangerous and contrary to the NAVRULES.

OK, let’s focus on getting brilliant on the basics of the NAVRULES. Please keep in mind the overview I’m providing is summarized and is meant for recreational boaters navigating on our saltwater bays, harbors, rivers and in the Gulf of Mexico. And, that the average recreational boater does not need the same working knowledge of the NAVRULES as a commercially licensed USCG captain. Additionally, these summaries do not separate inland and international rules as discussed in previous columns.

This week we are going to discuss the use of your vessels whistle. The requirements to carry and use a sound signaling appliance are required by the NAVRULES — more specifically, NAVRULES 32, 33 and 34.

First, let’s define what it is. A whistle is any sound signaling appliance capable of producing the prescribed blasts and compliant with USCG regulations. Vessel less than 12 meters in length (around 39 feet) are required by law to carry some means of making an efficient sound signal, such as a can of compressed air or an installed onboard whistle. This requirement covers the majority of the vessels in our area.

Now, let’s explore what the required sounds are, how long they are sounded, and what they mean to other boaters operating in your immediate vicinity.

There are two types of blasts made with our whistle: A short blast, which means a sound about 1 second in duration, and a prolonged blast, which lasts from 4 to 6 seconds. These blasts are known as maneuvering and warning signals.

When vessels are in sight of one another (we don’t sound maneuvering and warning signals in the fog), a power-driven vessel underway shall indicate that preparation to maneuver by using the following signals: One short blast means, “I am altering my course to starboard.” Two short blasts means, “I am altering my course to port.” Three short blasts means, “I am operating astern or backing up.” Five short blasts means, “No, I don’t agree with your signal,” or “I have doubt as to what you are doing,” or “Danger.”

Now that you know the requirements, I must caution you as to the response you may receive when you sound the mandatory whistle signal in accordance with the NAVRULES. You must keep in mind that even the most fundamental rules on the water are clearly not understood by most vessel operators. So please be prepared for a host of responses to your attempt to follow the law and do the right thing.

Knowing the NAVRULES is not an option — it’s the law. If you are deficient on being brilliant on the basics, find a competent boating education class, taught by USCG-certified instructors, that includes both classroom and on the water training. Getting educated may save your life and the lives of those you have onboard, and it will certainly make our waterways a safer place for everyone to enjoy. Stay safe out there and make good decisions.

Capt. Jack R. Sanzalone is a 30-year submarine veteran and licensed USCG Master Captain with 38 years of experience. He is the owner of Boat Tutors and teaches both basic and advanced boating education. You can contact Capt. Jack at or by visiting his website,

Capt. Jack R. Sanzalone is a 30-year submarine veteran and licensed USCG Master Captain with 38 years of experience. He is the owner of Boat Tutors and teaches both basic and advanced boating education. You can contact Capt. Jack at or by visiting his website,


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