I like driving. When deciding between taking my car or a plane, if the time from door to door is within a few hours, the car always wins. Given that a plane ride starts two hours before the “scheduled” departure and there is always a couple of hour layover in Atlanta, a trip from my home in Portsmouth to my mother’s on the Florida coast takes nine hours. I can drive it in eleven; and I get my car. What I can’t do in my car that I can on the plane is take a nap.
A 1997 study published in Nature confirmed that twenty-two hours of wakefulness has the same effects on performance as a blood alcohol concentration of .085. And though no one has ever been charged with BWE (Boating While Exhausted) – exhaustion has been the cause of boating accidents as long as there have been boats. Below are some simple ideas from experienced mariners that will help you stay alert when you need to be on long or late night trips on the water.
“Half the crew – head down – half the time,” is a good rule I heard from Lin and Larry Pardey, a long-distance cruising couple from New Zealand. Lin said it is important to truly rest and not just be off the helm on longer trips. The couple contends that often, when bad weather strikes, it is exhaustion – and not the condition of the boat or the seas – that ultimately makes people call for help.
“Stay off the helm when things are easy,” is great advice from our own Captain Vince Daniello. Vince’s advice is that you should take every opportunity to stay off the helm and rest up when the cruising is easy, out on the open water and away from other boats and tricky navigational areas. That way, the most skilled driver is available and well rested for when things get tricky …or worse.
“Heading out early? Hit the rack early.” That one is all mine. Even on short day trips, fatigue can play a part in mishaps before getting out of the marina. Early morning starts for fishing trips or morning excursions are fine, but if your plans include getting up earlier than you are used to, get to bed earlier than you are used to as well. 4:00 AM is a funny time no matter how much sleep you have had; reaction times are slower, focus is narrowed, and attention spans decrease. It’s definitely no time to motor through the marina on 5 hours of sleep. With apologies to Ben Franklin, when you are early to rise then be early to bed.
You may not have thought of it in this way before, but your pillow is a vital piece of safety equipment. Like all safety gear, you need to use it properly and at the right times for it to be effective.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the United States Coast Guard / Petty Officer Pamela J. Manns
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