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Safe at Sea: The rule of thirds

By PAT SCHMIDT - | Apr 6, 2021

Inevitably, every skipper lets this rule slide a little:

RE: Gas

Plan on 1/3 tank out, 1/3 tank back, 1/3 tank reserve

When that rule is forgotten and you suddenly find yourself running on empty, what should you do? Hopefully, you carry towing insurance, and for a hefty fee, BoatUS or SeaTow will bring you fuel in a timely manner. But if you have a long wait ahead of you, what should you do?

First, conserve battery power. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to not realize the stalled boat is the result of an empty gas tank, and the first impulse is to keep cranking the engine. That, in turn, can lead to no battery power when you most need it.

So do this: Get your position, direction and speed of drift. Then turn off the GPS until you need it. Of course, turn off all other electronics, save your VHF.

Second, if you are in shallow enough water, drop your anchor. (Common sense, right?) If you are not in shallow waters, drop the hook with about 50 feet of line. Better yet, if you have it, send your sea anchor … remembering to retrieve it when you’re “rescued,” of course.

Third, check the bilge for fumes and fuel. You’ll want to check that a leaky fuel tank was not the cause of your running out of gas. Most importantly, a bilge filled with gas and fumes is a potential bomb.

Next, alert nearby boaters of your dilemma and see if they can offer assistance.

Make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket — particularly important in rough seas.

Here is a “do not” do: Do not carry spare fuel in a portable tank. The fire hazard is far too great.

That’s why “The Rule of Thirds” is a mantra among experienced boaters. Again: 1/3 tank out, 1/3 tank back, 1/3 tank reserve.

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.