A few months ago a radio call from a passenger on a yacht in Queensland’s Moreton Bay was broad-casted because the skipper had fallen overboard, and when asked by the local Coast Guard radio operator “what is your location”, the daunting reply was “in the bay” – “where in the bay”, “can you read the GPS coordinates on the chart plotter” – “no”.
During an onboard emergency, precious seconds can be lost telling passengers where to locate and how to use vital safety equipment. If the boat operator (you) has been injured or otherwise put out of commission, the situation can suddenly turn life-threatening — too often with tragic results.
Two summers ago off the Massachusetts coast, the captain of a sailboat was knocked overboard by the boom while trying to get the sails down during a severe thunderstorm. His only passenger — a friend visiting from out of town — didn’t know how to radio for help. When he finally got through to the Coast Guard station, which was less than a half-mile away, he was unable to tell the dispatcher where he was. By the time the Coast Guard determined the vessel’s position and reached it with a patrol boat, it was too late. The captain had drowned because the only other person on board did not know what action to take in an emergency.
If you’re taking passengers along on your boat, make a full safety briefing part of your predeparture routine. It only takes a few minutes to show passengers where safety equipment is stored and how to use it, as well as the proper procedures for calling for emergency assistance. Consider what your passengers need to know in an emergency, especially if you are injured or fall overboard; then, customize the briefing to the unique characteristics of your boat.
Time spent briefing your passengers about onboard procedures and safety can make a huge difference in the event of a true emergency, when every second counts. Consider printing your safety orientation on a laminated card that can be posted in a prominent spot on your vessel. Also, label where the equipment is located on your boat.
Read on to find out what your passengers need to know.
Safety Briefing Points:
1. Where life jackets are located and how to wear them properly. (The Coast Guard strongly suggests that all passengers wear their life jacket at all times while on board an open boat.) If your passengers are not wearing their life jacket, at a minimum have them put a life jacket on and size it properly. Then have them put a piece of masking tape on it and write their name on the tape. That way, in an emergency situation, they will have a prefitted life jacket that is easy to locate. And remember, if you have children on board, they will need a proper-fitting, child-sized life jacket.
2. How to use the VHF marine radio and make a mayday distress call.
3. Where to find the EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon), survival equipment, visual distress signals, first-aid kit and fire extinguisher — and how to use them.
4. What to do if someone falls overboard and where to find the throw bags, life rings and life slings.
5. How to stop the boat safely and any unique features and/or idiosyncrasies of your boat, particularly if they might have an impact on passenger safety.
6. Where the anchor is located and how to stop and anchor the boat.
7. That they need to follow instructions exactly and get out of the way if something goes wrong and the boat operator has not asked for assistance. Some frightened people will stand rooted in place while chaos is going on around them. Knowing they should stay out of the way is important information.
8. How to use any installed global positioning system (GPS) equipment you may have on board.
Wrap up your briefing by answering any additional questions they may have. If any passengers are confused about boating safety procedures, the time for clarification is before you leave the dock.
Contributed by John Malatak, Chief, Program Operations, U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division.