When big trouble comes
to a boat, it comes fast.
I know this because every
time somebody survives big trouble on their boat
they tell the TV news reporter the same thing.
They say, "It happened so fast we didn’t have
time to do anything."
That’s what they say. I
say they are half right and half wrong. Of course
trouble comes fast, but it does not follow that
they didn't have time to do anything about it.
Before trouble visited,
I believe they had time to learn how to keep some
trouble (not all) away. Surely there was time
to practice and drill for the unavoidable, time
to rehearse what they'd do if somebody fell overboard,
time to practice what they'd do if their boat
started to sink, what they'd do if there was a
fire, what they'd do if __________. You can fill
in the blank. Boating accidents visit in a zillion
In late July, the wire
services reported that three men were winched
to safety by a British Coast Guard helicopter
just four minutes before their vessel sank. The
rescued men said there was a loud bang, the engine
stopped, and the engine compartment was suddenly
flooding with water. Engines stalled. Mayday.
Best guess is they hit
something. Could they have avoided it? If they
hit a charted reef, yes. If they hit a whale,
perhaps not. But they did know how to call for
help, and they got help in the nick of time. If
you're smart and a little bit lucky, trouble lets
Some trouble is not life
threatening, but expensive. Vic has a book's worth
of expensive-and/or-embarrassing nautical tales.
There's the Grand Banks
skipper who wandered out of the channel and ran
up on a sand bar. That should not have been a
major problem. All he had to do is wait for the
tide to come in. But in a panic to "do something"
he put the engine in reverse gear and promptly
tore up two propshafts. Cost $5,000.
Another skipper ran onto
some rocks and also thought he could back off.
His cost to replace rudder and rudder shoe, straighten
shaft and repair prop? $12,000.
In his lectures Vic reminds
boaters that when they run aground they should
first make sure they're not sinking. And, if not,
then they should shut down all systems – engines,
generators, everything. Then, he tells them, go
to the refrigerator and get something to drink.
Sit back, relax and assess the situation. Physicians
have a code to work by that would serve boaters
well: "First, do no harm."
Boating in the Everglades,
Vic and I once ran up on a mud flat in the Shark
River and put our vessel on its side. Eventually
the tide came in high enough to float us off the
flat. Embarrassment is better than expensive.
Every case is different but every case reminds
me that most of us boaters should rededicate ourselves
to the principles of safety.
Know your vessel and know
what it can do and can't do.
Know your passengers and
what they can and can't do. Do they know where
the fire extinguishers are located, and how to
The skipper is in charge.
The skipper, like an airplane captain checking
his aircraft before a flight, should look for
trouble before the boat leaves the slip. He should
follow a checklist.
Study the weather. Unexpectedly
large waves spring big trouble. Read The Perfect
Let caution rule.
Drill. Drill. Drill.
With education and practice
– and with a little luck thrown in – perhaps you'll
be able to tell the TV reporter how fast trouble
came but that you were able to do something about
it to save the passengers from injury, or worse.