I’ve been meaning to make a post about the documentation renewal scam regarding Coast Guard documentation and I just saw the Coast Guard made a post on their website about it. All boaters who have a documented vessel should be aware there are companies that will mail you a “renewal notice’ a few weeks or a month before your vessel documentation needs to be renewed. These mailings and the companies are fraudulent. They will charge you hundreds of dollars to handle your renewal but what you get in return is worthless.
The letters they mail out look official and are full of threatening wording in order to scare you into a knee jerk reaction and paying them to handle your renewal. Do not use these people to renew anything or give them any of your information. Many times they will try to sign you up for expensive automatic renewals and according to the Coast Guard they give you documentation that can’t be used legally.
Registering or renewing you documentation can only be done through the official Coast Guard website or documentation center. When renewing online only go to the official .mil website. Any website with a .com, .us, or .info is a fake website. The Coast Guard DOES send renewal notices by mail but that notice will direct you to the .mil website or a telephone number to the Documentation Center in West Virginia. Official documentation only costs $26 not the $100’s these scammers charge.
This new scam highlights the need to be vigilant both online and when receiving unsolicited mail or telephone calls. Many boaters are out of the country or traveling often and may not be aware of scams like these.
If you have fallen victim to this scam you can try to get a charge back from your credit card company though it maybe difficult without a fight.
Flares are an important part of our vessel safety equipment and are required by law.
For boats under sixteen feet you are required to carry 3 day and 3 night flares or 3 combination day / night flares. For boats sixteen feet and larger you are required to carry three hand-held or floating orange smoke signals and one electric distress light or three combination day / night red flares; hand-held, meteor or parachute type. All Coast Guard approved flares and pyrotechnic signaling devices are stamped with an expiration date. If your flares are expired or will expire during the boating season they will need to be replaced! While 3 day / 3 night flares are the minimum it is suggested and prudent to carry more. After a few years of boating this can add up to a significant cost.
Weems & Plath a leader in manufacturing technical and navigational instruments has developed an electronic alternative to pyrotechnic flares and signaling devices that is US Coast Guard approved, easily activated, eliminates risk of accidental burns and fires and can be attached to the boat and left unattended while you work to fix what ever problems the boat is having or assist you passengers. The SOS Distress Light is waterproof, has a floatation ring to keep the strobe light above the water, runs for 60 hours on 3 C cell batteries, and can be seen for up to 10 nautical miles. The best part is you don’t have to pay to replace expired flares year after year. The only ongoing cost associated with the SOS Distress Light is replacing the batteries yearly or as needed and carrying an spare set of batteries on the boat. The light comes with an orange SOS distress flag for day time use to meet requirements for day time signaling.
Some interesting features of the SOS Distress light are it comes with a lanyard that can be hoisted up a mast or tied to a railing, the handle fits perfectly into a standard rod holder, it works in all weather conditions, it’s so simple to operate even an untrained passenger can turn it on and it floats and keeps flashing even in the water unlike a flare that may not fire after an extended time in the water.
I bought one of these as soon as they came out and were Coast Guard approved. I kept my expired flares on the boat but marked them as “training use only” in order to avoid issues with the Coast Guard safety inspections. It’s never a bad idea to have a back up when it comes to your life or someone else’s. I’m pretty happy with the construction of the light and operation of the light. The only thing I would like to see is a mount sold for it. It takes up about the same amount of space as a small flare kit but it is an awkward shape and doesn’t lay flat or fit into an emergency bag easily. Since it fits into a rod holder you can repurpose a rod holder to store it. This makes a great addition to your Coast Guard approved safety kit.
Today I was preparing to write a post about coast guard required safety equipment and I came across something I didn’t know existed. The Official US Coast Guard App for boaters. I just installed the android version of the app on my phone in order to review it for this post. When you install the app you are asked to agree to the terms of service for the app. For a government agency the terms are fairly straightforward but read them first to make sure you really want to agree to them. Since you can make reports of hazards and emergencies through the app you are reminded that false reports are illegal and waste resources. The app asks to use your location because it will give the GPS coordinates when making a report The app asks you to fill out info for a profile but you don’t have to fill out any info until you try to make a report.
In addition to being able to make a report of a hazard you can make reports of pollution, report suspicious activity and request emergency assistance through the app. The app lets you view state boating information, request a safety check, review safety equipment, file a float plan, view the rules of the road, and see NOAA buoy information. That’s quite a lot of good information right at your finger tips. It appears you will need an internet connection to view some of the information.
Check out this video for an overview of the application.
This app is another tool in your boating toolbox and for the low, low price of free I’d recommend checking it out. The app also shows your GPS coordinates so you can quickly relay them to the authorities in the event of an emergency.