Take these seven essential steps before you head over the horizon.
Life Raft: Whether you own or rent, don’t cross the Stream without one. Be sure that it has been serviced and certified within the time period recommended by the manufacturer. In most cases this is every two to three years.
Ditch Bag: In addition to what your raft might include, have a waterproof bag ready with bottled water, essential medications, snack bars, flares, a handheld VHF, signal mirror and handheld GPS. If my boat didn’t have an EPIRB, I’d have one ready in my ditch bag.
Life Jackets: Crossing the Stream is serious business, so you’ll want serious life jackets for everyone on board. Invest in type I offshore life jackets designed to turn unconscious swimmers from a face-down to a face-up position.
MOB Gear: I use the Lifesling recovery system, which I have mounted in my cockpit ready for tossing. I also have heavy-duty eye bolts installed in my cockpit’s overhang for attaching a lifting tackle system, which makes it possible for my wife to pull me in. Most importantly, practice man-overboard maneuvers, and make sure you and your mate know what to do if the unthinkable happens.
Fuel, Filters, Impellers, Engine Fluids and More: Top off your tanks with clean fuel and start your voyage with new fuel filters. Chances are you’re going to experience some turbulence, which will loosen settled dirt in your fuel tanks. Unless recently changed, I make it a habit of changing my oil before I head offshore. Carry spare fuel and oil filters with you. Just to be safe, I also inspect my engine’s water pump impeller and carry a couple of spares. Check your coolant level and carry a gallon or two of what your engine manufacturer recommends. Check all belts and make sure there is a complete set of spares on board. I carry all these spares not necessarily because I anticipate trouble during my three-hour crossing, but because I don’t want to be looking for engine parts while in paradise.
Through-Hulls: Trying to find the source of incoming water when you’re being tossed around in the ocean can be frightening, especially if you’re not sure where all your through-hulls are located. Know where they are and label them. Be certain they’re serviced on a regular basis, and carry a supply of plugs made of wood or high-impact plastic.
EPIRB: Today, the reasonable costs of EPIRBs make it hard to justify not having one. Being found and rescued in the Stream can be challenging to rescue crews because of the strong currents and changing weather patterns. Be sure you register your EPIRB and keep the information up to date, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Crossing the Gulf Stream Safely
Planning, preparation and patience are key to a successful Gulf Stream crossing.