Boats and Boaters

As a helicopter rescue swimmer for the United States Coast Guard my friends and I would fly out to sea (at night usually) and pluck people out of one bad spot or another. Welcome to Yachting’s “Safe Returns” blog.

Imagination sinking

Courtesy of the United States Coast Guard

Not that long ago, about ten years or so, I hated boats. I just plain didn’t like the things. And I didn’t much like the people who went out on them either. It was an occupational hazard. As a helicopter rescue swimmer for the United States Coast Guard my friends and I would fly out to sea (at night usually) and pluck people out of one bad spot or another. What did they all have in common? Boats.

For years of my life if I was on a boat it was – you know – sinking. And if it wasn’t sinking it was upside-down or on fire or just not there anymore. Sometimes there was even screaming. It just wasn’t the kind of work that made you think, “Boating! … Good times!” So my experience had taught me that boats were hazardous and boaters were reckless and when asked to go boating “for fun” I would get confused and assume that the person asking didn’t like me.

But then life took me to Florida and I rented a small apartment on the St. John’s in Jacksonville. My landlady – she liked me I think – had a boat and would invite me out on day trips down the river every weekend. Declining became rude so one Saturday morning I gave in and said yes, certain I wouldn’t have any fun.

I met the crew at the marina at eight as instructed and my landlady, a licensed captain thank you very much, started the safety brief. “The what?” “Were these boaters talking about safety?” I thought that never happened. But there they were, intently discussing routes and the float plan and then carrying on with EPIRB and radio checks, a full safety gear inventory, and all the things that the boaters I had met at work invariably failed to do. It was amazing. They were talking about the sinking and screaming part to make sure they didn’t experience sinking and screaming. I had never seen anything like it, and that’s when it hit me.

My exposure to boats and boaters wasn’t the same as everyone else’s. There was a difference – I realized – between the average boater who calls for rescue, and the average boater who never has to call. And I decided right then to find out what that difference was. From that first good day trip about a dozen years ago, I have spend at least as much time with boaters who did things right, as with those who got it wrong, and I have been taking notes.

Welcome to Yachting's "Safe Returns" blog. My name is Mario Vittone and I have a been there at the end of a lot of very bad days on the water, and I have some pretty good ideas about how to avoid them. My posts will be focused on safety at sea, safety equipment, and boating risk of all kinds. I'll do my best to provide practical advice and honest opinions about all the things that keep boats and boating fun and enjoyable and something to …love. Yeah – I said it. I love boats. I'm even warming up to some of you boaters too (the ones who don't scream.)

Read more posts from Vittone's Safe Returns blog here.