Hey, we have a guest post!
I recently asked Vanessa Mackay to see if she could put together a safety article specifically aimed at a group of readers we haven’t focused on for some time, power boaters and sailors.
For novice boaters, passing the Canada boating exam is just a first step. There’s still much to learn, and like most real-world education, a lot of it will come the hard way: through hands-on experience. That type of “on-the-job” training, however, isn’t always good enough.
So let’s consider some survival scenarios, such as capsizing and sinking, so that if you ever end up in a worst-case scenario while at sea, you’ll know what to do.
Assessment and the Distress Call
As soon as you realize that you’re in an emergency; breathe and assess the situation methodically. The first thing to determine is whether you require external help. Determine that as fast as possible, and error on the side of caution. It’s better to send out a distress call that results in inconvenience and a little humiliation rather than not send one out and pay a more significant cost. When making a distress call, the VHF radio is usually the best option, but flares, waving arms and even mirrors can be appropriate in certain situations where potential rescuers are nearby.
Next, focus on passengers and ensure their safety however possible. Typically, this involves making sure everyone has a lifejacket on. Locate the lifejackets, start with the children and then help one person after the next don the jacket properly. When that’s accomplished, determine the safest part of the boat, or a safe area of the water, and move people to that area. If you’re still on the boat at this point, examine your surroundings for possible ways to alleviate the situation while awaiting help.
If You’ve Capsized...
The biggest mistake most capsized boaters make is that they leave the boat, attempting to swim to rescue. Understand that statistically chances for survival drop significantly as soon as the boaters leave the boat. The reason for this is that a capsized boat is easier to spot from the water and the air than just people in the water are. The other benefit to staying with the boat is that it’s a floatation device, and using it allows you to conserve a great deal of energy compared to free-floating with a lifejacket.
If You’re Sinking...
After making the distress call, the next step is to start the bilge pump. It’s for situations such as these that you’ve already learned to use the bilge pump, and that you’ve ensured that the pump is the proper size and style for your boat, and that it’s in top working order. Once you’ve connected the hose and turned the pump on, your job is to ensure that all debris stays clear of the line.
Bilge pumps do extend sinking time greatly, but they don’t prevent sinking altogether. If you feel that the boat will likely sink prior to rescuers arriving, then put the lifeboat in the water, and help each of the passengers on to it. The key is for you, as the boat captain, to remain calm because that calm is infectious.
If there is the potential that you may be in the lifeboat for an extended period, fresh water is the most precious resource you can take with you. However, drink it sparingly, and protect your skin from the sun as much as possible. In worst-case scenarios, you can use your fresh water containers to collect rainwater, so don’t throw those containers overboard once you’ve emptied them.