If you’re alone on the water

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 9, 2005

My mother-in-law, Janet, is visiting from Chicago and told me a story Saturday morning that provides the theme for this week’s column. Janet told me that one of her nieces, who is a schoolteacher had a student that faced a situation that no boater, or passenger, ever wants to. It is a position that few anticipate but unfortunately can happen more than people think. It can affect even the most experience boater, regardless of the size or type of boat. It can result in injury, a serious medical crisis or even death.

Usually people that own recreational vessels love to bring visitors with them. If you own a boat it is just more enjoyable to bring someone with you. Couples enjoy going out for an evening sail especially here in Suffolk. Now that sunsets are delayed, an evening cruise on the Nansemond is something to really look forward to.

However, how many people boating in the evening ever talk to their guests about emergencies before they get underway. For example, what would happen if the boat owner became incapacitated could the guests safely operate the vessel, especially if it was a sailboat? What if he fell overboard? What if the boat you were on was hit by another vessel?

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What VHF radio channel should be used? Where is the medical response kit kept? This exact situation is very similar to the story my mother-in-law told me. They were left essentially alone.

First off, if you are a boat owner or operator, place yourself in shoes of a visitor or even your spouse who is not familiar or comfortable with vessels and their operation. What basic items do they need to know?

Before you ever leave the dock get the visitor, friend or non-seagoing spouse familiar with the vessel itself.

Take the visitor on a tour of the vessel topside. Point out important pieces of equipment. Where are the life rings located? What do you need to do to get the EPIRB out of its cradle? Where are lifeboats? Take your visitor below decks and continue the tour. If you have a bridge area your guest needs to understand where the radio is and how to operate it. Reinforce that in an emergency Channel 16 and the Coast Guard are your best friends. I have seen many recreational boaters attach a laminated &uot;call sheet&uot; on the cord of their radio which steps the operator through the details the Coast Guard will need to respond (such as how to read the latitude and longitude off the GPS).

Point out to a visitor where your medical kit is and where the bilge pump is. It is also a good idea when discussing medical emergencies to let your guest know about any special medical conditions that you might have. Can you just think of the horror and helplessness a visitor would feel went into shock and the visitor didn’t know that the operator had a specific condition that would cause this? It is even a good idea, while on the topic of medical emergencies, for you to actually open your medical kit for the visitor so that they see what’s onboard.

So, owner-operator, have I started you thinking about ways to educate visitors who may be in charge of your life if an emergency occurs? Hope so. Until next week…Boat Safe…Boat Smart and before I forget…HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!

Joe DiRenzo is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard

who lives in Suffolk. He can be reached at j.direnzo@charter.net.