Tips for Handling Trouble at Sea

A fun day of fishing can turn into a life or death ordeal in a matter of minutes. make sure your crew is prepared for the unthinkable.
A fun day of fishing can turn into a life or death ordeal in a matter of minutes. make sure your crew is prepared for the unthinkable.

The day of the big fishing trip is approaching. You have equipped your boat with every safety item the Coast Guard requires, and then some. You are certainly “legal,” but are you safe? It’s easy to spend large amounts of money on the latest in boating and fishing gear, but if you and your crew are unfamiliar with your emergency equipment, where it’s stowed and how to use it, you are inviting disaster.

Preparation and practice are important components of any crew’s emergency routine. Equally important is your mindset because in a real world crisis, chances

Be Serious About Practicing Emergency Situations

The best way to prepare for an emergency is through practice. Crews who run through safety drills on a periodic basis are much more likely to react appropriately when the real thing happens. When you’re practicing, it is important to follow the decision-making process and plan of action that would be involved in an actual emergency. Once the situation, goals and resources of a particular drill or emergency have are nothing will take place in the manner for which you practiced. Therefore, the been established, it’s time to put together an action plan. There can be only one single most important factor in any emergency – the person “in charge,” most likely the boat’s owner or skipper. Begin by clearly and calmly assigning a specific task or tasks. Make sure each person knows and understands what he or she is expected to do (and not do), and make sure he or she is physically and mentally capable of carrying it out. As you proceed with the exercise, calmly and clearly tell everyone what is going on, what will happen next and what everyone should be doing. With proper preparation, most serious emergencies can be dealt with in a way that minimizes the risk to persons on board and maximizes chances of survival.

Conduct a Safety Drill

When you practice for an actual emergency, start by establishing the situation, goals and resources. Establish who is in charge. There can only be one captain during an emergency. Define the problem that must be solved: A collision, man overboard, grounding, fire, boat taking on water, etc. Define the desired outcome: tending to the injured, recovering a man overboard, extinguishing a fire, stopping the flow of water entering the boat, etc. Define the assets that are available to accomplish this: the people, the gear, the vessel.

What to Do In a Man Overboard Situation

If you or one of your crewmembers fall in the water, there is a clear and established protocol to be followed.

Prepare: Along with the required PFDs, look into throwable devices that can be kept on board. A throw-bag consists of 70 feet of floating line that pays out as it is thrown to the man overboard. The Tech Float is a water-activated inflatable horseshoe attached to a 75-foot line. The Mustang Survival Rescue Stick is a 14-inch baton that is thrown to the victim at distances of up to 100 feet. Once the baton hits the water, it inflates to a bright yellow horseshoe.

Prevent: Make sure that you and your passengers are wearing life jackets, especially while the boat is underway. When running the boat, attach the ignition safety switch lanyard to your life jacket. Don’t allow anyone to sit on the gunwale, bow or any other area not designed for seating. Do not allow people to stand up or move around while underway, especially in smaller boats.

Getting a person out of the water and back onto the boat is often harder than you think. an emergency boarding ladder is an inexpensive safety item that should be carried on most boats.
Getting a person out of the water and back onto the boat is often harder than you think. An emergency boarding ladder is an inexpensive safety item that should be carried on most boats.

Practice: There is a clear and established protocol that should be followed in a man-overboard situation. Practice this maneuver on a regular basis to give the helmsman confidence for a real-world situation. An old lobster pot marker, empty bleach bottle or a fender can represent the victim. Practice getting the boat back to a location where the object can be reached with a line or life ring. Practice in different weather conditions to see how your boat reacts.

Whoever is at the helm must do the following calmly and quickly:

Yell “Man overboard!” as loudly as possible to alert your crew and other boats around you to the situation. Turn the boat “in” toward the victim to keep the propeller away from the person in the water. Throw a flotation device toward the person in the water — a PFD, seat cushion, life ring or anything that floats will help. Hit the M.O.B. button on your GPS so that you can track the person in the water. It is critical that you not lose sight of the person in the water. Designate a “pointer” to point at the person in the water, never taking his or her eyes off the victim. If the circumstances warrant, put out a Mayday or Pan-Pan on VHF CH16. Use the latitude and longitude from the M.O.B. coordinates on your GPS and a general description of your location using nav aids and shore information, if available.

If the victim is conscious, it is always easier and safer to bring the victim to the boat rather than the boat to the victim. Use a life sling device or life ring with a line attached to it to recover the person. If the victim is unconscious, you will need to get someone in the water to assist them. Make sure the rescuer has donned a lifejacket and swims with a life sling or life ring with a line attached. Do not let the rescuer become another victim.

Always stop the vessel well clear of the person in the water and take the boat out of gear. If you have twin engines, shut down the near-side engine. Getting the victim back on board a boat with high sides can be challenging. In calm seas, use the swim platform and boarding ladder. Do not attempt to get the victim back on board using the platform in rough seas or if the boat is rolling heavily. The platform could come down on the victim and cause injury.

An emergency boarding ladder can be used to get the victim over the gunwale without the risk of being injured by the swim platform. A life sling can also be used to hoist the person out of the water and back into the boat.

Fire at Sea

There are few cries that strike terror in the hearts of a boat crew more than “Fire!” Ashore, your primary task is to get everyone out and away from the fire. At sea, however, there is no “front yard” to escape to. As always, preparedness is your best protection.

Prepare: Begin by outfitting your boat with the proper types and numbers of fire extinguishers and keeping them up to date. in the U.S., all marine extinguishers must be USCG approved. how many to carry is determined by your boat’s size. install at least one in an area where you can get to it quickly, in a bracket on a bulkhead, not in a compartment where you’ll have to search for it.

Prevent: make sure ventilation systems have been installed and are used properly, maintain the fuel system to avoid leaks, and keep the bilges clean. Follow safe fueling procedures.

Practice: everyone on your boat should know where fire extinguishers are kept and how to use one. Practice the following steps, which should be taken if there is a fire aboard your vessel.

1. If underway, stop the boat. have everyone who is not wearing a PFd put one on in case you must abandon the boat.
2. Position the boat so that the
fire is downwind.
3. If the fire is in an engine
space, shut off the fuel supply.
4. Aim the fire extinguisher at the base of the flames, and sweep back and forth. Remember P.A.S.S:

P: Pull Pin
A: Aim at the base of fire
S: Squeeze Handle
S: Sweep side to side

5. Summon help with your VHF marine radio.

Abandoning Ship

No boater ever expects to be faced with the scenario of having to abandon ship, and often there is little time to react before a boat sinks. Again, preparation and practice are the keys to survival.

Prepare: Consider purchasing an EPIRB or PLB (personal locator beacon). Prepare a ditch bag, and inventory its contents regularly. Before heading out, assign specific tasks to the crew in case of a serious emergency that would require abandoning ship. If you have a life raft, store it in a place that can be accessed easily and quickly. If you have a raft in a canister, it should be mounted where it can deploy free of obstructions. If your raft is the valise type, do not keep it below in a cabin. If the boat is taking on water, you certainly don’t want to go below to retrieve it.

WATCH: Cynthia Z sinks in less than 60 seconds!

Prevent: Properly maintaining your boat and practicing safe boating habits are important ways to prevent many emergencies that can lead to sinking. Also, know the limits of your boat, and respect the conditions, checking the weather before departing and monitoring it during a trip.

Practice: It is difficult to get people to practice abandoning ship, because most of us believe we’ll never actually have to do it. If your boat starts sinking, the situation will be chaotic. All will be very busy trying to keep the boat afloat. Your focus will be on damage control, possibly firefighting or stemming the flow of water. Switching from damage control to abandoning ship can be tricky. As always, the skipper must remain calm, focused and organized, and be comfortable performing the following tasks:

1. Issue the distress call. Put out a Mayday on CH16.
2. Switch on the EPIRB or PLB.
3. Get the boat’s ditch bag and flare kit.

If you have a life raft:
1. Prepare the life raft for deployment.
2. Secure the raft’s painter line to the vessel. (You don’t want the raft to drift away from the vessel before everyone can board.)
3. In the case of an onboard fire, launch the raft on the upwind side of the boat so the flames aren’t blown down on the occupants.
4. Most importantly, don’t launch the raft until it is evident that the boat will not survive. The boat will provide a larger target from the air for search and rescue personnel. There may also be items still on the boat, although partially submerged, that will aid in your survival.
5. Have the most physically fit adult board the raft first. This way, that person can assist the others in boarding the raft. 6. Pass the first boarder the ditch bag, flares, EPIRB and first aid kit.
7. Start boarding the least physically able next, followed by the rest of the crew.
8. Do not jump into a life raft. You can injure yourself or the occupants.
9. If the boat is awash but still afloat, keep the life raft tethered to the boat from a safe distance.

10 on “Tips for Handling Trouble at Sea

  1. John Miller

    After witnessing a man overboard this winter while Blackfishing I’ll say it all happens fast and being prepared is the difference.

  2. Ivy Baker

    I liked that you pointed out that you should conduct a safety drill on the boat. My father wants us all to go deep sea fishing for his birthday. However, I am really worried about being out on the open sea. So having a boat captain do a safety drill would help me feel safer.

  3. Greta James

    My stepfather is considering buying a small boat to enjoy during his retirement but I am worried about his safety. I really appreciated your advice on staying safe in the ocean and that everyone should always be sitting and wear a life jacket. I am a strong supporter of being safe while having fun so I appreciate the advice on how to do that!

  4. Alice Carroll

    Thanks for the tip that having fire extinguishers in a boat should be a standard procedure. I’m planing to go on a boat charter trip someday and I’d like to make sure that I choose one that can guarantee safety since I will be bringing my kids along. Getting to check the safety features of the boat beforehand would definitely make me feel more assured.

  5. Tex Hooper

    I guess I never considered a fire on the water. My wife wants to get a boat. I’ll have to rent one out.

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