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Safe at Sea: Failing to prepare is same as preparing to fail

By Staff | Jul 28, 2020

A few years ago, four family members in Florida were rescued 15 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico after a concerned family member called the U.S. Coast Guard when the boaters did not return on time. Their 18-foot boat had broken down and the four, ranging in age from 40-71, were adrift and suffering from hypothermia. Fortunately, their captain had wisely created a Float Plan and given it to his neighbor

Perhaps the most overlooked component of pre-boating preparation is creating and “filing” a Float Plan. While there are many excuses for not doing so – ranging from “but we’re not even going past sight of land” to “I’ve never experienced a serious problem on the water before” – the truth is this one step is the simplest and quickest safety precaution every boater should take.

In a nutshell, a Float Plan is a piece of paper that includes the following information: description of your boat, who is on board, description of the safety equipment you are carrying, where you expect to be and when you expect to be there.

However, the Float Plan – simple as it is – is only as good as what you do with it once you’ve created it. The Float Plan should be given to a responsible person who will anticipate your return at a specific time. Should you be “overdue,” the person contacts the Coast Guard or an emergency response team. The questions that person is going to be asked are the very pieces of information you’ve documented in you Float Plan, which at its best contains a picture of your vessel.

Highly experienced boaters have several pre-printed Float Plan copies ready to be completed when they have determined where they are headed. Then, the task is as easy as adding the date, destination, names of people on board and time of return to dock.

If you are leaving from a marina, leave your Float Plan with the staff; if you’re leaving from a public dock, leave it with a neighbor before pulling away from home; if none of these ideas work for you, then call a friend and tell him/her when you expect to return and where you Float Plan can be easily accessed.

Simply remember: The successful response to a distress situation is equal to the qualify of the information provided to those responders.

An pre-made Float Plan is available for use at www.usps.org/o_stuff/fp_form.html.

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