Dock Lines

Being prepared for an emergency – Part II

SAN DIEGO — In my previous column I examined some of the issues that might arise if the captain or main boat operator is suddenly incapacitated because of an accident, injury or illness, as well as actions boat owners can take to prepare for unforeseen situations and emergencies. This column continues that conversation.

Everyone in the family or crew who spends much time on board a boat should take a basic boating safety class and get a California Boater Card. An even better idea, especially if you’ve just bought a new boat and you’re relatively inexperienced, is to hire a professional captain to teach the whole family/crew how to operate its systems and how to dock and secure the boat in its slip. Hands-on training, with the opportunity to ask questions, is always preferable to attending a generic course or training yourself on boat operations by reading instructional manuals.

If you do hire a captain, be sure to request training in dealing with emergencies, including use of safety and emergency equipment and man overboard drills. Make sure you go over the location and use of marine radios, navigation and anchor lights, horns, sound signals and depth sounder. Even if the main operator is fairly experienced, bringing in a dispassionate professional captain to train the rest of the family can eliminate or reduce the emotional stress of teaching family members to operate a vessel with complex systems.

While everyone these days has a cell phone, you may not realize that, if you’re offshore or in international waters, cell phones may not work. Have you trained everyone on board to use the boat’s radios and call for emergency help on Channel 16? If your vessel is in distress or someone is in need of emergency medical attention, do you know when to use “mayday,” “pan-pan” or “securité” in making an emergency call (and do you know the difference between them)?  Do you know how or when to activate the red emergency call button on your VHF radio, if so equipped?

In calling for help does your crew know how to identify your approximate location, ideally using latitude and longitude, or by specifying proximity to navigational aids or landmarks visible on the shore, such as water towers, smokestacks, antennas, distinctive buildings or natural features? If you need a tow, are you a member of a towing service such as Vessel Assist or SeaTow and do you and your crew know your membership number? Be sure to post that information near your main radio.

If your boat is at the dock and you suddenly need to leave, for whatever reason, do others know what to do to close up and secure the boat? Know the difference between external dockside water and onboard pressure water and how to turn off the water to prevent water leaking into the bilge? Understand your routine for turning off circuit breakers providing electrical power to equipment, such as the hot water heater or galley appliances, that shouldn’t run while you’re off the boat?

Have you shown others where you keep your tools or toolbox, in case of sudden need of a screwdriver, pliers or specialized tool for an urgent repair? Do they know where you store your spare parts?

And do others understand the importance of maintaining operation of your battery chargers while you’re away and keeping bilge pump switches on automatic at all times, to prevent the boat’s sinking in case of an unanticipated leak?

It’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality or emergency. Make checklists for yourself and crew. Basic training and knowledge combined with common sense go a long way in helping most people to handle unforeseen, stressful situations.

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