Being a responsible drone pilot

I try to be a responsible drone pilot. I use the FAA B4UFly App on a regular basis to see what it has to say about locations that I’m interested in flying. Unfortunately, it lists every uncontrolled heliport as an airport and reports “Action Required” so often as to be nearly useless.

Yesterday I was sitting on the beach at Golden Gardens Park in Seattle, watching sailboats race offshore. I thought it would be good to check to see what the app would show. I was sitting at sea level, with a hill near me that would be at least 200 feet high. The rules for drones say that you are not allowed to fly over 400 feet above the surface without permission from the controlling authority. Aircraft are not allowed to fly below 700 feet without similar permission.


Golden Gardens is located about where the “E” in KENMORE sits on the map above. It’s under the Class B Airspace that starts at 3,000 feet, going up to 10,000 feet.

While understanding VFR charts  may be more than the average drone pilot should be expected to recognize, especially for a dense area like Seattle, the B4UFly App’s tendency to show warnings is similar to the boy who cried wolf. It’s impossible to recognize when an action is really appropriate.

Mustang Survival EP 38 Inflatable Ocean Racing Vest

After 16 years of faithful service, I decided it was time to replace my SOSpenders inflatable PFD. I’d bought it back when I was going through all of the classes offered by Windworks Sailing for US Sailing Certifications, and while it is still fully functional, the opening style was not as comfortable as the newer Mustang PFDs.

I’d gone into the store hoping to find a good price on a traditional shaped Mustang PFD, with the clasp in the front and double D rings to secure a tether. While I found those PFDs, I also came across this new PFD from Mustang that I’d not seen before. It had been introduced in October 2016, and I’d not done much sailing after early November, completing Round the County on Different Drummer.

The EP 38 was visually appealing, but also a step up in cost compared to the PFDs I went in prepared to buy.  It included built in crotch straps, something that I’d had to add to my old PFD to satisfy regulations on many of the races I’ve been interested in. I tried the EP38 on, finding that my head did fit through the opening and it was comfortable while wearing a t-shirt. I ended up leaving the store without buying anything since I had something new to think about.

After arriving in Victoria BC for the Swiftsure Yacht Race, there was a booth selling Mustang gear at a race discount. I’d watched online videos of the proper method of donning this PFD with heavy gear on, and knew it would be snug for me.

In the blazing sun of the inner harbor I took my heavy gear to the booth and tried on the PFD. I really wanted to see how it felt with the hood still folded into the collar of my foul weather gear. The videos explaining the procedure for donning the PFD explicitly suggest putting up the hood and securing the storm flap across your face before putting the PFD over your head. With some assistance tugging on my collar, I was able to get the PFD in place without raising the hood. While slightly snug around my neck, I decided that it was something I could get used to and bought the PFD.

After using the PFD during the 23 hour race, I’m mostly happy with it, but there are a few things I really wish Mustang had designed better.

  • The chest strap tightening system regularly loosened up on me, and I was often re-cinching it. A bigger issue is that to tighten it, you must pull the straps towards the rear. It would be much easier to tighten it if the cinch points were near the back of the harness and the loose ends pulled forward to tighten.
  • The crotch straps should be a few inches longer. I’m 6’2″ and more overweight than I’d like to be. At full extension these straps barely connect. I know that there are plenty of sailors that are taller than me. The straps are already adjustable to shorten the length, making them a few inches longer would make them so much more usable.
  • The velcro patches securing the spray hood and crotch straps in the back should be larger vertically, to make them easier to secure. I regularly hike outside the upper lifeline, and coming back through the lifeline was knocking the velcro loose.
  • Pulling the life vest on over my head I was regularly rubbing my sunburned nose on the front of the collar. This was something I got better about during the course of the race, so is less of an issue than I thought when initially trying it on.

After listing what was wrong with the vest, I’ll say I like it much more than any vest I’ve used in the past. there are several points that I can’t emphasize enough.


Pulling the vest on over the head and securing the straps is so much faster than having to buckle a traditional vest. At 3am when sleeping below on the sails without my foul weather gear or PFD on, this was intuitive and almost as quick as throwing a t-shirt over my head when I needed to assist with a spinnaker jibe. I can’t emphasize how much the speed of putting it on made spending the money on good safety equipment seem a worthwhile expense.

The front of the PFD seems lower profile than my old PFD, and it’s nice to not have metal D rings in the front.

The hydro-static automatic inflation technology is supposed to be better than the old chalk ring technology.  It may cost more when I need to replace it, but it’s nice to have the maintenance dates visible through the clear plastic in front.

The back of the collar is less likely to get caught on the lifelines, though I’m watching the velcro pocket on the back.

Being all black, there’s not a good visible location two write my name in normal use. I have put my name on the label that’s visible when it’s inflated, but am still working on the best way to label the outside. I have access to a sewing machine that can sew patterns of letters, so I’m thinking of having my name stitched into the webbing using a bright thread.