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Boat’s Ready – Is It Safe As Can Be?

smby Vincent T. Pica, II
Commodore First District, Southern Region (D1SR) – United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

If you saw the movie “Marathon Man”, you will surely remember Sir Laurence Olivier holding a dentist’s drill over Dustin Hoffman’s tooth and asking, “Is eet safe? Is eet safe?” Poor Dustin Hoffman kept asking “safe about what??” – until he started screaming… Your boat may pass its vessel safety check – which means it at least meets Federal minimums… But is eet safe…? This column is about that…
Safe For What?
Admiral Halsey is famous for many things but one is noting that, for a thousand years, safety starts at the dock. What are you intending to do with this boat, on this passage, with a certain mission or task in mind – and it is properly outfitted for that. Certainly, meeting Federal minimums sounds more than a little short of the mark if you’re intending to head out to the Hudson Canyons for an over-night fishing trip… OK, you’ve got your required number of flares for the size of your boat and a life jacket for everyone… but are you really prepared for what God’s Great Ocean can throw at you..? What are the “optional” items that could open up the safety window for you while the USCG comes charging out to get you…?
Cell Phone v VHF Radio
In my mind, the greatest piece of safety gear that you have on your boat is a simple VHF radio. Last summer, my crew and I off-loaded a father and son from a vessel by buoy 14 in Moriches Bay whose engine was afire. After off-loading the boy while guiding the father to suppress the fire and seal up the hatch to keep oxygen from re-igniting it, we had him set the anchor and off-loaded him to our vessel. How did we happen to be there? Another boater radioed us as we were returning from sea via the Moriches Inlet and said, “I think there is a boat on fire over by buoy 14!”
The more prepared skipper might have pressed the “Digital Selective Calling” button on his radio (they all come with that button now) and, hopefully he had had it connected it to his GPS, it would have sent his GPS coordinates directly to USCG rescue personnel. Station Shinnecock, our controlling station that day, would have likely dispatched us or another of their vessels directly to the stricken vessel. What if they hadn’t had a GPS hooked in to their DSC-equipped radio? Frankly, much the same result would have happened. Rescue-21 would have been able to generate a line of bearing to the boat and the USCG would have had a boat race down that line until they came upon the vessel.
What about a cell phone call? To who – your wife? “Honey, send help!” How about the fishing vessel that is a half-mile away – but you don’t have his cell phone number… Maybe you can strap the cell phone to a rocket flare and try to hit him with it.
Getting Back Aboard
If you do manage to lose a crewman overboard, or even yourself, how will you get back aboard? If you don’t have a collapsible boarding ladder attached to your stern or your swim platform, you’ll never get back aboard unless you can pull a “Flipper the Flying Porpoise” and jump into the boat. (See “Man Overboard!”, SSP.) Get a good one, with at least 3 steps that pull out so you can get your cold and cramped legs onto the bottom step. If you have to pull yourself up to steps that are just too high, you may find it impossible to save yourself.
Money No Object..?
It always strikes me as penny-wise and pound-foolish to skimp on safety equipment – such as a GPS – but the reality is that not everyone is in a position to afford $5/gallon gasoline and a $500 GPS or $900 EPIRB. Of course, we are talking about saving the life most important to you – yours!
BTW, if you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at JoinUSCGAux@aol.com or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at DSO-HR and we will help you “get in this thing…”

Filed in: U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary

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