Survivors Call Early
“Sooner is always better than later when it comes to calling for help,” Molthen said. Too often, boaters will try and work the problem themselves, waiting until the water is at their knees to grab the radio. “Let [the Coast Guard] know that you’re having a problem, and where you are, at the first sign of trouble – even if you think you can manage without help.” There are a number of things rescue organizations can do - without launching a full rescue - that can dramatically increase your chances of coming home should things get worse. These include monitoring your position and track, and having other vessels in the area lend assistance or standby until the emergency is over. Make the first call early, and options remain open.
Don’t think of your EPIRB as a fail-safe tool for any emergency. They are certainly a must-have piece of equipment, but few understand that it can take as long as four hours for a 406 EPIRB without onboard GPS to relay your approximate (within 3 miles) position to rescuers. A lot can happen in four hours, and the difference between your reported position and your actual position can be off by miles when the search begins. Programming your VHF Radio with your Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number adds a powerful tool to your distress alerting arsenal, but like EPIRB registrations, the phone numbers listed should help rescuers gain usable information about your situation, not just notify loved ones that you are in trouble.
A Real Float Plan
“Boaters rely too much on the electronics to save them,” warns Molthen. “If all we get is an overdue call from the family – and that happens a lot – all we have to go on is what we are told by the people at home.” Too often, families can only tell you what “usually” happens, e.g., “He is usually back by dark,” or “He usually refuels in Charleston.” A real float plan includes important details about the vessel and the trip, including paint scheme and major gear aboard (life raft, dinghy, PWCs), the names and ages of everyone aboard, and the intended route the vessel will take.
I asked Molthen how many times in his career he had seen a real float plan. “Never,” he said, without much hesitation. I couldn’t remember one either, and we both considered how many times we flew back empty – for want of a piece of paper with a plan on it, stuck to the fridge at home.
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