While this holiday weekend was created to remember and honor those who died serving in the US armed forces, it's also the start of boating season for millions of people. The United States Coast Guard just released its first mobile app, designed to provide key boating safety information on your iPhone or Android smartphone.
I graduated from the USCG Academy and spent eight years on active duty, including spending two years at sea on a USCG vessel. A few years ago I sold my recreational boat so I am also personally familiar with small boat ownership and safety.
While larger recreational vessels have loads of electronics in the wheelhouse, millions of small recreational vessels are likely to just have the basic safety gear. This means that many boaters do not have a radio, GPS navigation system, or other modern safety and navigational equipment. This new USCG app is designed for recreational boaters operating on US territorial waters. It is not designed for commercial operators or those on the high seas.
You can create a profile that includes your name, phone number, email, mailing address, age, and gender. Your profile is saved on your phone within the app and is not transmitted automatically to some USCG database. However, it does give you the ability to quickly provide this information in a report or request.
You can submit reports for marine hazards (broken aids to navigation, marine life issue), pollution (provides you with a phone number to call and your latitude/longitude), and suspicious activity (provides you with a phone number to call and your latitude/longitude).
One thing I've seen far too often while serving in the US Coast Guard was lost recreational boaters where others were not informed of their boating plans. The USCG app lets you create and file a float plan that includes all of the specific details about your boat so that if you do end up exceptionally late or are reported as missing, the USCG will have more accurate information about where to begin searching for you.
The USCG app also lets you review the rules of the road, view NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) buoy data (best to give the app access to your location for the closest buoy) for up-to-the minute environmental conditions, review a list of minimal safety equipment you should have for your vessel size and type, request a complimentary vessel safety check from the local US Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla (volunteer organization), and view boating safety information for the state in which you are boating.
At the bottom of most pages in the app, including the main home page, you will see a large red emergency assistance button. Tapping that gives you VHF-FM radio informtion and buttons for you to intitiate a call to the USCG or 911. Your latitude and longitude is display on this screen as well.
Enjoy the boating season and make sure that safety is a priority for you and your guests. Given the popularity of smartphones and minimal requirements for recreational boaters, I am very pleased to see the USCG release such a functional application. Please encourage every boater to have it installed, setup a profile with their boat data, and file a float plan with family and friends.