Recreational Boating Safety – The Guest List

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Base Galveston Flotilla
This is a list of considerations for when you are a guest on another person’s boat.
Item 1: The Float Plan
Filing a float plan with one or more people can mean the difference between being rescued and being lost at sea. As a guest, you can ask your host if he has filed a float plan, but don’t forget it is a good idea for you to file your own float plan. It doesn’t have to be as detailed as your boat operator’s float plan, but you should file the basic information with at least one person with instructions to contact the Coast Guard if you become overdue from your trip. The best float plan I have ever seen can be found as part of the U.S. Coast Guard smart phone app. It not only asks specific questions needed to help rescuers find you, but it will also email the completed float plan to up to two contacts. Anyone on the boat can file a plan. You do not have to be the Skipper. The following information should be provided to at least one contact:

  1. The boat’s identification (registration number, length, type, type of propulsion)
  2. Vehicle information (make, model, license plate number, launch location)
  3. Safety gear aboard (Life jackets, visual distress signals, food and water)
  4. Persons on board (name, age, gender, address, phone number)
  5. Itinerary:
    • Where will you depart from and what time will you depart
    • Where are you going to and what time do you plan to arrive
    • Any waypoints along the way
    • Check in time (always have a check in time and don’t forget to call)

Item 2: Your Personal PFD
Whenever I am a guest on another person’s boat I always bring one of my own life jackets (aka personal flotation device, or PFD). I know my friends have extra life jackets aboard, but I always wear my own because I know it is properly fitted and suited to me. If you don’t have your own life jacket, be sure to check with the captain to ensure that he has one for you and then put it on before you get underway. The worst time to find out that the extra life jacket your captain has is two sizes too small to fit you is when you are about to abandon ship.

Item 3: Sunscreen
Yes, you need sunscreen even in the winter! Before we go further, you will need a go bag to carry all the stuff we are going to list. A medium to small backpack is quite suited for the purpose. Go ahead and put some sunscreen into your bag right now.

Item 4: Water and Snacks
Ask if your captain is going to provide water and snacks, and your captain may well do so. But I recommend that you carry a supply of water at least enough for one day along with some power bars or granola. You don’t want to get 20 miles out and find out your captain’s idea of liquid refreshment is the new Onion Coke.

Item 5: Extra Clothes
If you fall overboard or enter the water for some reason, it would be nice to have a change of clothes, as air drying isn’t as fun as it sounds, especially if the weather is a little cool. Extra clothes come in handy if you get caught in a rainstorm. Make it a long sleeve shirt. The sun can be brutal and even though you may have sunscreen on a long sleeve shirt can give you extra relief. Always wear a hat and sunglasses and put an extra hat and pair of sunglasses into your bag.

Item 6: First Aid Kit
Hopefully your captain has one aboard, and you can surely ask before you make the trip, but a small first aid kit of your own is still a good idea. If you are going to be fishing, include a hook removal or hook cutting device. Even the most careful fisherman gets hooked occasionally.

Item 7: Communication Device
Ask if the captain has a VHF/FM radio for communicating with the Coast Guard in case of an emergency. I recommend you have your own handheld marine radio or your cell phone even if the captain has a marine radio. While a cell phone works in many cases, it is not something you can depend on as much as you can a marine radio.

Item 8: Boat Familiarization
You need to know a few things about that boat in case the captain ends up overboard or otherwise becomes incapacitated. You need to know how to be able to operate the boat in an emergency or how to make an emergency call on the radio or satellite phone. You need to know how to crank the engine. You need to ask your captain about the basic operation of their boat, and I also recommend that you get a little time at the controls so you will have the feel of the boat should you need to operate it in an emergency. You need to know where the anchor is, how to use the radio, where the first aid kit is, where the bilge pump switch is, where a spare dewatering device is (bucket, hand pump), and generally what to do in an emergency. Many of the emergency calls received by the Coast Guard are due to the captain’s incapacity or the captain falling overboard.

Boating is not just for boat owners; guests are a large part of the boating community. As a guest you have some responsibility to look out for your own safety even though the captain has thought of just about everything needed for your safety. A short Guest List can help you make the most of a trip, especially if something goes wrong.

[BC: Oct-24-2023]

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