As the national boating season approaches NAUTICAL LOG will try, once again, to save a boaters life. For most of you now is the time when you start de-winterizing (is that a real word?) your boat. Without doubt you will clean, polish, paint, varnish, overhaul the engine, winches, check standing rigging, examine the running rigging, anchor gear, blocks, bilges, docklines, sails, charts, tide/current tables, the galley (beer in fridge is optional, remember BUI), all safety equipment such as lifejackets, flares, radios, foul-weather gear, depth sounder, shoes and sealing wax. All to be 'Shipshape and Bristol fashion' and ready to head for the yacht clubs and marinas. Splendid, well done, hard work pays off and things look really great. Now there how about yourself, - excuse me I am in good shape, up to speed on things, been boating for years - I'm an experienced boater. Oh! dear those fatal words, - I'm an experienced boater. Fellow seafarer maybe you actually are and I very much hope so but lets have a little look at things together here.
Living in South Florida we can pretty much go boating all year long. This year since Christmas we have had several boating incidents which ended in tragedy. Without going into details they involved lack of weather knowledge, no lifejackets worn, no anchoring knowledge or combinations of these. In all these cases the boaters were described in the media as 'experienced boaters' sadly they were not. We have lakes, rivers, inshore, inside the reefs and offshore so no matter what the weather is there is usually somewhere to go. Therein lies the problem 'The Weather', that experienced boater will first of all CHECK THE WEATHER. That should be done at least a couple of days before planning to go out so as to know what the pattern is. If it is good for you to go then you check the weather again before departing and each hour underway. That way you are immediately aware of any sudden change, particularly in the Florida peninsula, and can adjust your voyage plan.
First and foremost however you must really know what to do, and the way to do that is to TAKE A BOATING COURSE. They are available online and cover all the knowledge on how to behave out there, once you have done that and received your card you are a knowledgeable boater. Now when you go out, starting small and using that course knowledge, you will become an experienced boater. Be patient your creation took nine months and creating an experienced boater will take longer, say at least two years if you go out most weekends. Surprised huh and there you thought you knew it all. Why do you think those cute red or yellow towboats are getting seasonal ready now, those nice guys are just waiting for you, - GET A MEMBERSHIP.
Lets review a bit here boaters;
* TAKE A BOATING COURSE - go online at www.nasbla.org/ or www.boat-ed.com/ and find the course for your State. Complete it and get your I.D.Card. Once you have done that start reading and remembering "Chapman Piloting - Seamanship & Small Boat Handling". This is all the library you need, take it aboard with you, it is worth its weight (and it is a bit heavy) in gold.
* GET A MEMBERSHIP - talk to the guys in those cute little red or yellow towboats in your area. When things go wrong, and believe me they will, out they come to solve the problem. If you do not have a membership you will need a stimulus package check!
* CHECK THE WEATHER - get in the habit prior to that first seasonal voyage and build up knowledge and a 'feeling' (seafarers are big on feelings) for your boating area weather.
* FILE A FLOAT PLAN - always always always file a float plan. If you do not know what that is learn today, print some up, then fill them out and file them just prior to departing. Remember to cancel them when you safely return.
* WEAR YOUR LIFEJACKET - put it on when you arrive at the club or marina. I am a very poor swimmer, so I park and put it on immediately in the parking lot. Never fails someone asks me am I new to boating, always say " yes pretty much, about 65 years now". Usually some kid asks "Daddy do we have lifejackets like that old man". Kids are great, - dead honest, not always kind mind you but dead honest!!
* GET A SAFETY CHECK - those good shipmates of AUX USCG are at the launching ramps to see if your boat is in good shape. Let them give you a safety check and take their advice. If you pass they place a decal on the boat and away you go with peace of mind. If not, you now know what to correct. Remember they do this in all weathers on a voluntary basis, so be gracious. They really are experienced boaters.