By Mark King
originally posted January 1, 2011.
A New Year’s Review
New and experienced boaters and their families can always benefit from a safety tune-up and there is no better time to plan it than in the winter when boats are laid up. So here is a top ten list of things that you can do this winter to get ready for the new boating season ahead.
- Take a Boating Course. The first item is often repeated in this column – take a boating safety class. Even if you took a course to obtain your Pleasure Craft Operator Card there is much more to learn. The course to obtain your card is a minimum standard – the bare essentials you need to know to get on the water and operate safely. From navigation skills, to radio operator skills to mechanical skills and repair skills there is a wealth of information available and courses to take.
It is important to check the weather continuously while you are on the water. Besides listening to weather forecasts, with a little bit of knowledge you can predict weather changes. Learning cloud formations and how to read a barometer can help you understand what is coming your way. Major recreational boating organizations hold classes regularly. Check them out.
- Take Responsibility. Organize yourself, your boat and your crew to be responsible for your own safety. Along with gaining the knowledge you must also gain the experience and work with a plan. Learning the proper man-overboard drill in a classroom is good, but have you ever tried to put theory into practice? The same holds true for all emergency situations. If you had to get the dinghy in the water in a hurry can you, and every member of your family, get it done? Do you all know the correct way to use your flares? Being in charge of your own safety takes a little work but if it is ever needed it could save a life.
- Review and Renew your Safety Gear. Transport Canada mandates a minimum amount of safety equipment. It also mandates that this equipment must be in useable condition and it must be easily accessible. Take some time over the winter with your family and discuss the gear. Is it adequate for your boating needs?
If you regularly venture out into open water alone you should probably carry more than the minimum amount of gear. Are there other circumstances in your everyday boating that require more gear than called for by the standards?
Do you have the best gear available? There are items that can help you meet the minimum standards but would prove to be quite inadequate in a real-world emergency. Take inventory of the gear you carry and think about how it will work.
- Learn and understand the rules of the road. While this is taught in basic boating courses, testing can not adequately cover all the rules. When we acquire an automobile license rules of the road are an extensive portion of the test – both written and on the road. It is absolutely imperative, especially in crowded waterways, that everyone understands and adheres to the rules of the road. You should know what to expect of other operators and they should be able to rely on you to operate in a proper manner.
- Commit yourself to operate in a safe manner while maintaining a lookout. By law you must do both of these but these are two of the rules that are often bent when we are on the water.
Keep your speed down as speed shortens reaction times. It is always a problem to boat on a tight time schedule. Leave yourself time in your journey to be able to operate at safe speeds and deal with unforeseen circumstances. Remember to slow down in poor weather and around navigational hazards. Always have an escape route planned. This winter you can review your charts in the areas that you usually boat to check for hazards and locate places along your route where you could take the boat to dock or anchor, in an emergency.
- File A Float Plan. Even if you are just going out for the day someone should know where you are going and when you expect to be returning. Any boating course will provide you with an example of a float plan. You can take some time this winter to create your own personalized float plan with the basic information about the boat and emergency gear already printed. This will allow you to fill in the final details just before departure.
- Ensure your boat is in top mechanical condition. Boats operate in extreme environments and suffer tremendous abuse. Pounding, vibration, and water can cause all sorts of problems. If you are not comfortable checking out the boat yourself, book a service appointment now to have your marine mechanic do it before you head out in the spring.
- Install a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector. Carbon monoxide is produced by engines and appliances. While underway in certain conditions it can accumulate at the stern of the boat and flow into the boat. At anchor it can make its way into the boat from running generators and engines – even from a neighboring boat. It is a colorless and odorless gas. A regularly maintained CO detector is the best way to be sure it isn’t in your boat.
- Review your Charts and Publications. You should have the latest and largest scale charts on board your boat and they should be up-to-date. You should also have other publications on board that pertain to the area in which you boat such as Canal Regulations or Sailing Directions or Small Craft Guides. Fisheries and Oceans publish all of these and they also list any chart or other publication changes on a web site at http://www.notmar.gc.ca/privacy.php. Check your charts to make sure they are the latest available and then review these Notices to Mariners for your charts and bring them up-to-date.
- Check the PFD’s. Although this falls under the safety gear category it is worth repeating as a separate item to ensure your life jackets and personal floatation devices are of the correct size and in excellent condition. Check them this winter and make sure they are stored in the boat where they are easily accessible. If you aren’t going to wear them while on board at least have them available quickly and ensure everyone knows how to put them on both on the boat and in the water. If you have two helm stations it’s a good idea to have a life jacket at each station for the skipper so they are within easy reach in an emergency. Practice putting them on while in the water at your community pool this winter.
With a little planning and knowledge your family will be enjoying their time on the water this coming season and for many years to come.