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Safe at Sea: Preparing for an ‘instant captain’

By Staff | Jun 16, 2020

Here’s the scenario: It’s a beautiful day, perfect weather conditions, so you take a group of friends out on the boat. As captain, you are solely responsible for the well-being of everyone on board. On such an ideal day, what could go wrong?

Rarely – if ever – does the captain plan for something to go wrong to him/herself. However, life happens. This could range from an MOB or CAB (captain over board), to sudden illness or severe injury. What could make matters worse is if the passengers on board know little to nothing about boats.

One simple step to take should such a situation arise on your boat is to equip your helm with a small laminated card telling your “instant captain” what to do. Keep the text short and sweet, taking into account the likelihood that the IC might be stressed, if not seemingly overwhelmed by the task at hand: Get the boat to shore ASAP safely so any emergency may be addressed.

Here’s what should be on the card:

– How to stop

The point is to explain shifting slowly into neutral, then slowly shifting into reverse (only if absolutely necessary). Remember: A panicked person with no experience needs this to be simple. For example, “Slowly pull back on the lever(s) to the right of the steering wheel. You should hear it ‘click’ into the vertical position. This is neutral.”

– How to anchor

In an emergency, anchoring the boat/securing its position until assistance arrives will likely be the best decision. Explain the procedure to drop the anchor in “un-nautical” terms. For example, “The anchor hangs off the bow of the boat. To the left of the wheel is a two-way lever, labeled ‘Up’ and ‘Down.’ Be sure all passengers are away from the anchor and push the lever ‘Down.'” Or, “The anchor is stored under the center floorboard. Before dropping the anchor, be sure the bitter end is attached to the boat.”

– How to call for help

In this age of cell phones, this is always the first means of communication. If, however, you’re beyond range, explain how to turn the radio on (it should be on already). Inform him/her how to switch to Channel 16 and key the mike.

– Where am I?

The important things to mention are to point out the GPS unit location (fairly obvious to all) and where to read the LAT/LON on the screen.

For those interested, the America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva offers a two-hour seminar entitled “Partner in Command.” It could prove to be the best two hours you will have ever spend in class.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.