Boating Writers International 11th Annual Writing Contest - Peter McDonald's "Seamanship" won 1st place in the Boating Columns category.
After a 40-mile run back from the offshore fishing grounds, my buddy let his concentration waver in the inlet and stuffed the bow of his center console. The water rushed in and nearly sank his boat. He chalked it up to letting his guard down close to home, which is partly true. What he ignored was the hidden disabler: noise-induced fatigue.
No matter what kind of boating you do-cruising, fishing, or poker runs-you're exposed to a high-noise environment. Sound, and its partner vibration, comes at you from the engines and the wind. It can sap your strength and impair your judgment. So it's wise to be aware of how noise affects you and how to handle it.
Underway, you're exposed to the low-frequency waves emitted from your boat's engine. These waves literally slam into and bounce off your body, wearing you down physically. They are one reason why, even after lounging on an airplane for two hours, you feel tired.
High-frequency sound waves from your engines and the wind have a psychological effect. The louder these noises are, the harder it is to concentrate. You exert more energy just to talk or listen to someone else. Studies show that exposure to sounds of 90 dB-A or higher can cause increased blood pressure and a raised heartbeat, as well as nausea and fatigue. Loud noises also make you irritable and decrease your attention span.
To put boat sounds into perspective, take a look at the reference chart from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at www.cdc.gov/niosh/01-104.html. Normal conversation falls in the 60 dB-A range whereas irritating lawnmowers and belt sanders reside in the low 90s. According to NIOSH, any continual noises over 85 dB-A must be regulated in the workplace. On a boat, hopefully far away from work, there are no such regulations. Keep in mind that the decibel scale is exponential-a jump of 1 dB-A produces three times the sound energy.