Nassau Sport Fishing Association

Nassau Sport Fishing Association

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Passenger Crew Orientation

Courtesy of BOATSAFE.COM

There was a horrible, but preventable tragedy this past summer in the Boston area.....on a beautiful July afternoon two guys went sailing off Boston Light in a stiff breeze - their first mistake: not listening to, or ignoring the weather forecast. A lot of other people did the same thing, but were lucky - these guys were not.

The sky turned black, the wind picked up to 60 knots, and the seas grew to 10-12 feet, as severe thunderstorms blew in. In minutes, there were a half-dozen or so boats on the rocks, and one that had capsized with 2 adults and 6 children aboard! (they were all rescued, thankfully.) 

The captain of the sailboat I was referring to was knocked overboard by the boom while he was frantically trying to get the sails down. HE DROWNED in FULL VIEW OF LAND and a whole bunch of other boats who didn’t know what was happening to him because they were too pre-occupied with their own critical situations. The man left on board did not even know how to use the radio! When he finally figured it out, he could not tell the Coast Guard where he was located! He was from out of town, so he couldn’t even give them a dead reckoning - the ultimate irony is - the local Coast Guard station was less than ½ mile away! But the guy didn’t know it ‘cause he wasn’t familiar with the area. It was very frustrating for both him and the Coast Guard; by the time they got to him it was too late for the captain. He drowned because the only crew on board DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO!

A very tragic story, and it never should have happened! if it helps even one person to realize that it is imperative to teach the crew the basics, it will be worth it. A mere 5 minutes or so at the beginning of each trip would do it - a mini-briefing, of sorts. The following is some of what I think the captain should cover, at least briefly:

  • Go over where the life jackets are located so that if the captain gives the order for everyone to don them, people aren’t wasting precious time tripping over each and tearing things apart trying to find them! It’s amazing how many boats have them tucked away somewhere out of sight, and the majority of guests/crew have no idea where to find them. By the way, the part of the USCG requirement concerning PFD's states that they must be readily accessible. That does not mean in the storage compartment in the V-berth under two cases of your favorite beverage.
  • Point out the fire extinguisher locations and instruct passengers/crew how to use them.

  • Conduct a demonstration on how to use the VHF radio. Discuss which channel in your area is the emergency channel, and how to pinpoint your location on the GPS (if you have one), in order to give it to the emergency personnel.
  • If something goes wrong and the captain hasn’t ordered you to do anything, GET OUT OF THE WAY! It’s amazing how many people just stand there dumfounded in the middle of chaos - it drives me nuts! We lost an engine in a 30 knot wind on the Charles River on the 4th of July where there were literally thousands of boats anchored and rafted all around us, and within seconds we were in extreme danger of a collision. We were trying to retrieve a tow line from a fellow boater, and my landlubber brother sat in a chair right in the middle of the back deck (we were on a 32-footer with about 10 people on board, and I was first mate) - after I tripped over him and his chair for the third time, I yelled at him to get out of the way - go into the cabin and stay there! He was hurt, of course, and took it personally, but I tried to explain to him later that on a boat in a critical situation, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem! GET OUT OF THE WAY! (We didn’t collide, but it was very close, and everyone was really stressed out for a while afterward).
  • It may also be a good idea to just show people where some basic equipment is located - life ring, boat hooks, gaffs, lines, first aid kit, etc., just in case they are asked to retrieve them in a hurry. Also, I always tell people where the sharpest knife on board is located, just in case it’s needed in a hurry, to cut a line.

Maybe it would be a good idea to compose a "Crew Test" for those people who don’t own their own boat, but spend a lot of time on friends’ boats! 

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