One of the most important things for having a safe day on the water, especially if you are taking guests, is preparation. These five tips will ensure that everyone understands what to do when something goes wrong and that you have the right equipment to deal with a problem.

Create a Float Plan

Although a lot of people just want to get straight into the water, if you plan on being out there for a while it is a good idea to create a float plan. A float plan is essentially a trip itinerary that you will give to someone at your departure point, and should contain details like boat type, skipper’s  and passenger’s names and contact information and the locations/activities you plan on doing.  It is quick and easy to make a float plan and doing so will allow people to contact you or inform the authorities of your location if there is an emergency or risk to safety.

Develop a Crew Overboard Plan

Much like the float plan, a Crew Overboard Plan is an easily created back-up which will help greatly if someone is unfortunate enough to unintentionally disembark. Whilst it will vary from boat to boat, the idea behind the plan is to have a safe, effective process to recover someone from the water that every crew-member should understand. The plan should be made specifically for the day and should include consideration for the physical condition of the crew (individually, some people may need different processes), water temperature, wind velocity and wave size. All of these things potentially impact someone’s rescue.

Getmyboat.com has a handy example of what Crew Overboard Plan should look like:

  1. Loudly call out “man overboard!” when a person is known to have fallen off of a vessel either at rest, at anchor, or underway.
  1. The captain should immediately respond by pushing the MOB button on their electronics (if applicable) and manoeuvre their vessel appropriately for a return back to retrieve the person in the water.
  2. A spotter aboard the vessel should visually locate the person in the water, point to the victim, and maintain constant eye contact with them.
  3. A life saving floatation device should be thrown into the water, such as a life ring buoy or a Dan Buoy (floating stand with a flag atop a vertical pole). Additional items that float should also be thrown overboard, in effect creating a paper trail to mark the victim’s location.  Do not permit another crewmember or guest to jump in after an MOB victim.
  4. As the captain safely circles back for the recovery, remaining crew should prepare to approach the MOB victim and haul them aboard.

Stock up with basic safety equipment

Although it might go without saying, your boat should be stocked with basic safety equipment – some of which is legally necessary, and some of which is simply smart to bring. Whilst some of these are common sense, such as having a medical kit, life jackets for each person and maps and charts of the area, there a number of very useful things which might slip your mind. Depending on the type and size of your boat, you may want to consider taking buckets, fire extinguishers, paddles or oars, waterproof torches, a life ring and compasses. These will help you deal with smaller problems such as engine failures, taking on water and man-overboards.

Alongside those items, you should look into purchasing more specialised products which could help you out of a tricky or dangerous situation once in one. Distress flares, sound signals and V sheets are all designed to let other people know that you have run into trouble.

 Invest in Basic Maritime technologies

In addition to having basic equipment, you should also invest some time and money into certain maritime technologies to ensure your safety.  Two must-haves are the Very High Frequency (VHF) Radio and the Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). In Australia both of these items are required by law when on open water.

A VHF radio is perhaps the most important piece of technology for the average boater and will allow you to communicate with other boaters and authorities from kilometres away. Whilst good models can be a bit expensive, at the very least your boat should have a handheld version, which is considerably cheaper.

An EPIRB is a device solely designed to ensure the safety of your crew in worst case scenarios. Once it has been activated an EPIRB will broadcast SOS messages, which search and rescue services are required to respond to, via satellite for at least 48 hours. Whilst it is last resort measure, you don’t want to be caught without one.

Research the Conditions you are heading into

Researching the weather and water conditions is another very important precaution one should take if they wish for their crew to have a safe day on the water. There are several factors you will want to make sure are favourable. Firstly, wind conditions; chances are you will want to ensure that forecasts are predicting average wind speed. Whilst above average isn’t necessarily troublesome, when you start entering Gale and Storm force winds it’s probably time to reschedule. The next thing you will want to look at is the wave conditions.  When looking into potential wave sizes, you’ll want to keep in mind that whilst averages are important, you should be ready to deal with maximum waves of twice the stated average. If that’s too much, rethink the trip.

You’ll also want to ensure that the weather conditions won’t hinder your navigation or comfort. Be aware of fog and rain, and make sure you won’t be caught out by a creeping thunderstorm.