Getting Help on the Water
If you find yourself in an emergency situation contact the Coast Guard on your VHF Radio channel 16. Report your position, the number of people on board, and have everyone put on their PFD. Also, be ready to signal a passing boat with your flares. (The importance of a VHF radio cannot be over emphasized.)
Convince yourself the value of wearing a PFD
Next time you are swimming with someone (even a small child) in a pool or by your boat try this: Pretend for a moment the person you are with is hurt and cannot swim. Try to keep yourself and the other person afloat. Try to move them to a safe place. Then try it with your PFDs on. You will see just how difficult it is to help even the smallest child without PFDs.
Many people who fall in the water either do so because of an accident on the boat and they fall in the water injured. Some fall in the water and hurt themselves during the fall. Either way you will be in trouble without a PFD. The best swimmer in the world cannot tread water indefinitely and the colder the water the less time you will have.
Everyone onboard should wear a PFD. If you wait for the fall or accident it is Too Late!
rain x ® Glass Treatment
Good visibility is a very important part of boating. Try this simple product on your glass windshield (not on plexi-glass) you will be amazed at how rain and sea spray just rolls off the glass.
Flares or VHF Radio?
The answer is simple, both. If you have an emergency contact the Coast Guard on channel 16 immediately. All other vessels on channel 16 (in-range) will hear your broadcast. There may be a boat ½ a mile away that can reach you in 2 minutes. However, if that vessel ½ a mile away does not have his radio on you may be able to get his attention with a flare (day or night).
Monitor Channel 16 on your VHF Radio while Boating
VHF radio channel 16 is the distress channel. The U.S. Coast Guard, rescue boats, commercial vessels and many recreational vessels monitor Channel 16. You do not usually hear a lot of chatter on this channel because it is only used for distress and safety. The broadcasts you will hear are important and useful. The following words are generally repeated three times prior to a message and are used to give the listener an idea of urgency of the message to follow:
- Mayday Mayday Mayday: Life threatening situation.
- Pan-Pan Pan-Pan Pan-Pan: Serious problem but not life threatening
- Security-Security-Security: Safety Message.
Monitoring channel 16 will allow you to hear these important messages and possibly get to the scene quickly while the Coast Guard is en route. You may be able to directly help or just relay information to the Coast Guard if the vessel in distress looses radio contact.
Safety messages may include:
- Description of an overdue vessel.
- Approach of fast moving thunderstorm.
- Floating debris (i.e. tree trunk) in a certain area.
- Shift in a navigation buoy’s position.
- Notice from a large ship they are approaching a narrow channel.
- A vessel may announce it’s position while operating in the fog.
Monitoring channel 16 and performing periodic radio checks (on other channels) will increase your awareness of what is happening around you. It will also give you confidence in your VHF radio and your communication skills.
High Water Alarm
You are cruising along fine and suddenly you feel the boat is loosing speed and is not planning correctly. You stop a realize your bilge is filled with water. Once the water goes over the batteries your bilge pumps and VHF radio will not work. It may be too late to get a handle on the problem before at this point. A high water alarm will give you advanced warning so you will be alerted of the problem early and will have more time to react.
Tapered Wood Plugs
All through hull fittings should be fitted with sea cocks. Sea Cocks are just simple valves you can shut to avoid your vessel from taking on water if a hose or fitting fails. If these valves are not operated or maintained they may be difficult or impossible to close. Now you have a open hole in your boat. Wooden tapered plugs of different sizes are available at marine stores. These plugs can be used during an emergency to temporarily plug a hole, fitting, or hose. You can even have a appropriate size plug on a lanyard at each through hull fitting.
Use your engine as a bilge pump
Inboard engines pump seawater through the cooling system of your engine. The water enters into your boat through a hole in the hull called a through hull fitting and exits out with the engine exhaust. The through hull fitting should be equipped with a sea cock or valve to close off the fitting if there is a problem or during maintenance. During an emergency the fitting can be closed and the raw water intake hose can be removed from the fitting. The engine will pull the water from the bilge and act as a pump. The higher the RPMs the more water will be pumped out.
It is not always easy to remove the hose from the fitting. After the fitting is closed a knife can quickly cut the hose from the fitting. It is not a bad idea to carry an extra length of hose so you can replace the one you cut. (Also remember your vessel needs the water to cool itself so if you run the bilge dry there will be no water pumping through the engine.) This technique is used in an emergency to remove water from a sinking boat.
Water Flow in = Water Flow Out
If you find yourself taking on water through a hole in your boat, remember that your bilge pumps can be used to remove the water. During an emergency you may not need to completely seal a leak (which may be difficult or impossible at the time). If you can quickly stuff something in the hole (i.e. a cushion, towel, jacket) reducing the “flow in” it may be enough for the bilge pump to keep up. Some rescue divers carry soft “Nerf” footballs to stuff into irregular shaped openings in damages hulls to reduce the water flowing in. If you can’t get to the hole from inside the boat, if the conditions permit, you can use a scuba mask and stuff the hole from under the boat. (Masks can come in handy on a boat.) They key is to reduce the water flow into the boat. Always carry a manual bilge pump (a bucket will work) in addition to any electric pumps. A large capacity back up bilge pump is not a bad idea.
Emergency VHF Antenna
This is a very simple thing to carry on-board. If have a problem with your VHF radio antenna you can simply screw in this antenna into the back of your radio. The antenna usually has a suction cup on it so you can quickly fasten it to the highest part of your vessel. You should always carry a back up VHF radio but the radio is only as good as the antenna. Hand held radios are a great back up but do not have the range of a fixed mount radio. You tend to loose your main antenna at the worst time when you may need it the most like being caught in high winds and heavy seas. These antennas are small and easy to stow. It is a very simple way to have a back up antenna.
Communication on the Water
The VHF radio is the primary source of communication on the water. If you make a distress call on channel 16 everyone who has there radio on (in range) will hear you. A boat may be able to come to your aid immediately while the Coast Guard or rescue vessel is on the way. A cell phone will only alert the person you call (you may not even have signal with your phone). The Coast Guard or rescue vessel can actually determine your position from VHF radio signal.
Best Advice: Equip your vessel with a fixed mount radio and antenna. Carry a submersible Hand Held VHF for back up.
Keep Your Hull Clean
Barnacles and underwater growth on your hull and running gear will cause problems. There will be more drag on the boat resulting in reduced speed and increased fuel consumption. Significant vibration and cavitation can occur if the propeller, shaft, and rudder are affected. Your boat may also have a cooling issue and over heat if the growth is covering the cooling water intake fittings. Use an appropriate anti-fouling paint and check the hull periodically. Boats that sit in the water for long periods without use are more susceptible for growth issues. Float Plan
If someone reports that you are over due from a trip the first thing the Coast Guard or Rescue personnel will ask: “Did they leave a Float Plan.” The most important thing they need to know is where to start looking for you. A float plan is a simple procedure of letting someone know where you are going, who you are with, and a description of your vessel. It should included when you expect to return or make further contact. The more complex your trip or voyage the more detailed your float plan.
i.e. “I will be fishing off Charles Island today and will be back by 6:00 pm.” Or.
“We are leaving Newport on Tuesday evening and will arrive in Block Island on Wednesday morning. If you do not hear from us by 10:00 am notify the Coast Guard that we are overdue.”
If the Coast Guard is notified that you are overdue they will know where to look. They will usually make an announcement to other vessels to keep a look out for your vessel. (That is an example of why it is good practice to always monitor channel 16 while you are boating.) The coast Guards message may sound something like this
“SAY–CURE-IT-TAY , SAY–CURE-IT-TAY, SAY–CURE-IT-TAY”, attention all stations. This is U.S. Coast Guard Long Island Sound Group. It was reported that a 30 foot blue hull sailboat with 3 people on board en route from Newport to Block Island is overdue. Vessels operating in this area should keep a sharp lookout and report any information to the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard- OUT.
The message is repeated on regular intervals.
EPIRP -- Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon
This stand alone devise that when activated will send out a distress signal including your position. It can be activated manually or mounted to activate automatically if the vessel should sink. It works with the satellites so even if you are out of radio range a distress signal and your exact position will be sent. This is an example of technology providing the ultimate in distress signaling.