Safe at Sea: An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure
This tale involves a brand new boat and an experienced boater. The captain and his guests had just left the dock on its maiden trip and were planning to take the newly launched boat to a boat show several miles away when the engine quit. So here he was, an experienced boater out on the open Gulf with a new stalled engine. What possibly could have gone wrong? Who could he call if he was in cell phone range?
Hindsight has told us that our experienced boater failed to complete the easiest pre-boating task. He had failed to confirm that the boatyard staff had filled the fuel tank on the new boat.
What should the nervous captain do next? The boat was drifting with the tidal current and a light wind; his fuel gauge on the newly acquired boat was marking, “empty” and the cell phone was out of range. Fortunately, the marine radio was operative. To whom should he direct a call on Channel 16? The U.S. Coast Guard does not tow boats or bring fuel or mechanical advice to stranded boaters. However, there are marine stowing service available, and the captain had been smart enough to have made an insurance policy purchase prior to taking possession of his new vessel.
Immediately, he received a response to his marine radio request for assistance. His towing service asked his location. That was when he learned he had also forgotten to add an anchor and anchor line to the new boat before leaving the dock. The tow boat and our skipper agreed to stay in touch, hoping the drift of the unanchored boat would not take him out of radio range.
Does all this seem unusual or bizarre? One national dispatch center has reported receiving 70,000 such calls for assistance annually.
Generally, boaters seeking assistance do so for one of five reasons, including running out of fuel. Mechanical breakdown is the No. 1 cause for over half the boats stranded on the water. Breakdowns often include issues beyond the engine, such as transmission, steering and engine accessories – drive belts or pumps. Issues with the electric system may include a dead battery and/or loose or corroded electric connections, along with blown fuses. An engine overheating may be the result of a worn water pump, broken belt or clogged cooling water intake. Running aground is the fifth cause and can result in significant damage to various parts of the boat or its drive line. In our shallow local waters, this happens with frightening regularity.
Most experienced boaters have had some issue with a boat that won’t start or run properly at some time in their boating. Most would undoubtedly agree that while you cannot schedule a breakdown, for sure you can schedule the maintenance to prevent most breakdowns on the water. An anchor, strong battery, means of communication, chart that you can read and proper maintenance are some of the key ingredients to a reliable and fun boating experience.
For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org.
Bob Eidsvold is a member of the Sanibel-Captiva chapter of America’s Boating Club.