Dock Lines

Being prepared for an emergency – Part I

SAN DIEGO — Would you be able to take charge if someone on your boat has a serious accident, sudden illness or injury, whether on board or at the dock, or even away from the boat? What if it’s the primary boat operator? Would you know how to control, operate and/or stabilize a situation if the primary operator or owner isn’t able to assist?

A recent series of disabling accidents, injuries and illnesses among boating friends and dock-mates got me thinking about how vulnerable we boaters can be, especially if we’re not prepared for an adverse event. Often there’s only one person on board, the owner or main operator, who really knows how everything works and where everything is.

But what if that person is somehow incapacitated through illness or injury or otherwise unavailable – perhaps traveling in remote regions, inaccessible to modern communications – would you be able to step in and handle an emergency?

Regular readers know I’m a strong advocate of boater education. Anyone spending any time on board a boat of any size should take a basic boating safety class. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary ( and U.S. Power Squadrons ( offer regular classes, with locations and dates posted online, throughout coastal regions. (Be sure to get your California Boating Card, even if you’re not legally required to carry one yet. It’s another great form of boater education.)

The Coast Guard Auxiliary’s class “Suddenly in Command” is geared to people not normally at the helm, covering topics particularly relevant to this column: what to do if the captain is incapacitated or falls overboard or if you’ve just bought a boat for the first time and need to take over.

Arv had long had a boat when we met. I took a basic boating course as soon as I realized I’d be doing a lot of boating. He also developed a checklist for me containing the steps to enable and close up the boat, including how to turn on and off the water, electrical/electronics equipment and any other essential systems. I kept that invaluable checklist until we sold that boat.

Every boat has its quirks, which develop and change with age. For example, the Burgundy has quirky heads, as many boats do. Does everyone on board know your boat’s critical quirks?

Are you and your crew/guests familiar with the normal operational sounds of your boat, whether at sea or at the dock? Often I’ve been up late and heard an abnormal-sounding noise. Several times it was an unexpected bilge alarm, signaling a possible leak, but other times it was an alarm or other problematical sound emanating from a slip-mate’s boat and I was able to alert our absent neighbors. Do you know what your boat’s alarms signal?

If you can’t isolate or fix a problem yourself, do you know whom to call for help? Develop a list of reliable maintenance and repair resources with contact information, as well as other emergency contacts, including friends/family, your marina and towing service, with membership number.

Does your boat have a comprehensive first aid kit, including a rapid blood clotting agent such as QuikClot, HemCon or WoundSeal? Does everyone know its location and how to use its contents? Consider taking a first aid class or a refresher.

How about lifejackets or PFDs (personal floatation devices) and a life ring in case of a man overboard? Does everyone on board have one fitted to their size and know its location in case of an emergency?

In my next column I’ll continue with tips on preparing for emergencies. Please add your own tips in the comments.

Capt. Nicole Sours Larson photo


Share This:


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *