OK, for the moment, don’t think of yourself as the boater in peril. Instead, imagine yourself as the loved one concerned for an overdue boater and unsure. When to worry? What to do? Maybe that loved one is contacted by a first-responder agency. The boater’s empty trailer and tow vehicle seem abandoned at a ramp, with no sign of the boat. What does the boat look like? Who was in it, and what were their plans?
Maybe that loved one on land will have the calmness, the poise, and the useful information to initiate a search effort, or assist in one. They’ll have an easier time of it if you’ve filed a float plan.
What’s a float plan? At its simplest, it describes:
- Who’s going
- Where they are going
- What kind of boat they’re in
- When they plan to return
Beyond that, specifics improve it:
- Ages and any health issues of the captain, crew and passengers
- Cellphone and/or satellite phone numbers
- Planned route
- Activities planned (fishing, sailing, diving, hunting, cruising, etc.)
- Boat make, model, power, size, color and identifying marks
- Identification numbers for the vessel’s EPIRB and/or any personal locator beacons (PLBs)
- Time of expected return and the deadline when officials should be notified
Consider creating and pre-printing a float-plan form with your name and info, and blanks for the other items. Filling it out can become as second-nature as packing snacks and buying bait — and potentially far more important. Leave it with a family member, friend or marina. Another option is using the form available at floatplancentral.cgaux.org; you can fill it out on a digital device and email it to family, a friend or marina. (Note that the Coast Guard does not accept float plans, so don’t send it there.) Obviously, if your plans change, contact the person with whom you left the float plan and give them the updated information, to avoid false alarms and unnecessary responses. Time counts in a marine emergency. The faster that rescuers are summoned, and the quicker they learn where and for whom to look, the better their chances of finding and assisting that boater.
A float plan sounds like big-boat stuff, but it’s not. For a 10-foot kayak or 90-foot sport-fisher, it’s a slightly formulized version of the love note on the kitchen table: gone here with so-and-so, with the time you’ll be back. Except it can save lives, including yours. Often the vessel’s skipper completes the float plan, but a crewmember can be assigned the duty. (And even if you’re just tagging along, or on your own modest-boat adventure, you can leave a similar plan with someone at home.) Freedom is part of the lure of boating, but with freedom comes responsibility — in this case, helping someone help you if you need it. That’s best done with a float plan.