September 30, 2014

When to call for help

ONE OF THE THINGS that most worries newcomers to boating is what to do when a medical emergency strikes the skipper. I’m referring to a situation in which there are only two people aboard, and the one who always does the steering and navigation is suddenly taken ill.
I have a friend who recently became the mate on a sweet 30-foot tugboat. She is very conscientious and is trying to learn everything at once—all you need to know to take charge of the vessel and get quick help for the skipper and keep the boat clear of dangers and find the way home and dock it safely and . . . well, to cut to the chase, she is driving herself crazy with all the responsibility. In short, she is attempting to learn all the tricks of the trade that most of us take years to absorb.

Despite the tension that this generates, she says she thoroughly enjoys her time on the boat, but it would be nice if there was a list of things she should learn first, a priority list, so she could tackle one thing at a time.

My advice to her was simple. If your skipper is suddenly stricken while you’re out cruising, don’t even attempt to take over the responsibility of running the ship. You’ll need to accumulate a lot more experience. For now, simply concentrate on what you can do in the way of first aid, and wait for help to come.

So the first things to learn would be:

1. How to put the engine(s) in neutral, and

2. How to call for help.

The idea of putting the engine in neutral is simply to avoid running blind, that is, without someone at the helm.  It’s better to keep the engine(s) running rather than shutting it (them) down, because there are many different starting procedures that might be a mystery to you.

The ability to call for help means you should master the simple rules for emergency messages on the ship’s VHF radio.  You should know how to send a Mayday call on Channel 16, or any other channel that seems appropriate, and what information to give.  That includes your exact position, which you can get from the GPS if it’s running,  or an approximate position, such as “about six miles south of Mudguts Harbor” or even “the middle of Simple Simon Bay.”

As a backup, there should be a portable battery-powered marine VHF radio on board and you should be very familiar with that one as well.

The advantage of a Mayday call on VHF is that it is broadcast to all vessels in your area, some of which may be close enough to come to your aid very quickly. The Coast Guard also monitors Mayday calls on Channel 16 and will take charge of your rescue.

Alternately, use your cell phone if you’re within range. Call 911 and ask them to tell the Coast Guard about your situation. The Coasties will call you back by phone and arrange to get help to you.

If you explain that you know nothing about handling the boat, everybody will be very understanding. Calling for help is the most sensible thing you could do, and nobody expects anything else. 

Today’s Thought
After the verb “To Love,” “To Help” is the most beautiful verb in the world!
— Baroness von Suttner, Ground Arms

A Polish immigrant went to the licensing offices to apply for a driver's license. He had to take an eyesight test.
“Can you read this?” the clerk asked, showing him the letters C Z W I X N O S T A C Z.
"Read it?" the Pole replied. “I know the guy."


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

No argument here, John.....

Also - in Canadian waters, dialling *16 on any cellphone will route you directly to the nearest Coast Guard base. Not sure if this works in other countries.