Getting underway? Be prepared

Vessel DocumentationCoast Guard Safety Alerts

One of the most important things before heading out on the water is filing a float plan. Photo by PA1 Tasha Tully.

Written by Aux. David Glaser

Last year, there were nearly 5,500 boating accidents that resulted in more than 550 deaths and 2,600 injuries. Most people look at this statistic and think, ‘It will never happen to me.’ However, most of these accidents involved experienced boaters. It is important to plan for the unforeseeable. What do you really need on your boat? What do you do if you are in need of assistance? Here are some tips to keep you prepared on the water.

Before you leave the slip

Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. The best and easiest way to do this is to fill out a float plan. A float plan details crucial information – such as where you are going, a description of your vessel and when you planned to return – that is important to rescue crews.

Along with a float plan, you should have your boat examined yearly. The Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts vessel safety checks for free!

“Getting a vessel check is the most important thing,” said Coast Guard Auxiliarist Don Golinski. “The average [vessel safety check] is about a half-hour depending on the boat.”

The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers free vessel safety checks to help you stay safe on the water. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers free vessel safety checks to help you stay safe on the water. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Emergency Equipment

When going boating, the equipment you have onboard can be crucial during an emergency. Even if you don’t use these items every time you go out, the one time you need them, you’ll be glad you brought them along.

Life jackets are the most important piece of equipment you can bring along. You should have one for each person you have aboard and children under the age of 13 should always wear one when out on the deck of the boat.

Having a personal locator beacon is also a crucial piece of equipment you should always bring along. These small, waterproof devices transmit a digital burst to a satellite once every 50 seconds and will output this signal continually for 48 hours unless turned off. This technology allows the Coast Guard to pinpoint your location within three feet in less than three minutes.

Other important equipment to have onboard:
· magnetic compass (electronic compasses can fail)
· distress signal flares (orange smoke flares for day and red flares for day/night)
· VHF marine radio
· anchor
· horn (or some other sound signaling device)
· fire extinguisher
· first aid kit

Communication is key

So what do you do if you’re in trouble? Who do you call? The Coast Guard should be the first person you call on VHF channel 16. There are two ways to alert others that you need help: ‘mayday’ and ‘pan pan’.

‘Mayday’ should be said three times if there is imminent danger to your boat or the passengers aboard. ‘Pan pan’ is an urgency message that denotes that you are not in immediate danger but are in need of assistance.

Also the use of flares, signaling mirrors or just simply waving your arms at passing boats gets the message across: I’m in trouble.

Staying safe on the water starts before you ever leave the pier. The first step in keeping yourself and others safe is preparation.

Coast Guard Seaman Samantha Randall displays a personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon required to be carried by U.S. Coast Guardsmen who are underway. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Seaman Samantha Randall displays a personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon required to be carried by U.S. Coast Guardsmen who are underway. U.S. Coast Guard photo.