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Old 03-08-2015, 18:24   #1
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Should I have called the Coast Guard

I was out on the water outside cape town. Us and another boat were the only things in sight about a mile east off shore. The other boat was flapping sails for a quite a while when we were approaching (maybe 10 minutes) in another direction. On closer inspection main was half way up, maybe reefed, jib collapsed in a pile on deck, and no one in sight. There was 25 knot wind with bigger gusts in 3 foot seas. The boat looked rugged.

I stayed with him a few minutes then kept going and reported to Coast Guard. Gave them all the data, but once a mile away, could not get back to them due to heading being into the wind and engine barely being strong enough to fight the gusts.

CG sent a boat out, issued pan pan for possible men in the water. About two hours later they found the boat, and apparently skipper was on deck by that point.

Should I have called this in? Anything you would have done differently?
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Old 03-08-2015, 18:31   #2
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

If you watched the boat a while and never saw anyone on the boat, then yes you should have called it in! In my opinion.
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Old 03-08-2015, 18:43   #3
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

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Originally Posted by markol0 View Post
Should I have called this in? Anything you would have done differently?
I'm guessing the CG asked you to return to the boat?

The situation was: you saw a boat that you thought was untended and maybe without crew or similar. Since you asked for some internet hindsight... if I was concerned and the boat looked in some distress, I would have tried to hail them - radio, horn, whistle, shouting.

Sure they'd be grumpy about being awoken (if that was the case), but then you'd have saved the CG a trip.

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Old 03-08-2015, 20:02   #4
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

If you decided to call it in you must have had reason. So I think you did the correct thing.
We have to 'back' ourselves.
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Old 04-08-2015, 05:59   #5
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Yeah, I'm with Mark. You were there, we weren't. It's not for us to try to second guess you.

You explained the situation to the CG. The fact that they chose to investigate is pretty good evidence that they did not consider it a nuisance call.

So I say, good on ya.
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Old 04-08-2015, 07:25   #6
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Yup, I agree. Sounds to me like you did absolutely the right thing by calling it in mate.
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Old 04-08-2015, 08:36   #7
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

The alternative could have been much worse. Hell yes you made the right decision. As mentioned above but not in your story is if you tried to hail them somehow... I would attempt that 1st. But way better safe than sorry.
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Old 04-08-2015, 08:45   #8
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Did you have anyone else with you? What else could you reasonably have done? It sounds to me that you made a fair call.
It is easy to criticise but the reality is not so easy - I would say you made reasonable decision.
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Old 04-08-2015, 08:57   #9
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Quote:
Originally Posted by markol0 View Post
I was out on the water outside cape town. Us and another boat were the only things in sight about a mile east off shore. The other boat was flapping sails for a quite a while when we were approaching (maybe 10 minutes) in another direction. On closer inspection main was half way up, maybe reefed, jib collapsed in a pile on deck, and no one in sight. There was 25 knot wind with bigger gusts in 3 foot seas. The boat looked rugged.

I stayed with him a few minutes then kept going and reported to Coast Guard. Gave them all the data, but once a mile away, could not get back to them due to heading being into the wind and engine barely being strong enough to fight the gusts.

CG sent a boat out, issued pan pan for possible men in the water. About two hours later they found the boat, and apparently skipper was on deck by that point.

Should I have called this in? Anything you would have done differently?
Just out of curiosity, did you try hailing him on the radio or calling out at all or were you just sailing past as you seem to indicate? Did you do anything to try to reach them?
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Old 04-08-2015, 09:36   #10
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

You stated you were in high winds, at least sea state 3 (or better). Your description sounds like a vessel actually rigged for high winds. Jib is down, main is reefed, or dropped and, actually, 10 minutes is not a long time to tend to a sailboat offshore.

In heavy seas, especially single-handed, it's not inconceivable for a skipper to drop sails and leave them where they lie while tending to alternatives (e.g. deploying a storm sail/sea anchor).

The USCG gets (and vets) a massive number of calls. Many are fictitious MayDays. Deployment of sailors and equipment is both expensive and dangerous. The best approach is to investigate, but keep a safe distance. If no response to hails, the USCG should be contacted w/standard identification and location information for them to make the call. Likely, during that time, they'd ask and answer all the questions you're asking.

Mayday is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in voice procedure radio communications.
It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency primarily by mariners and aviators, but in some countries local organizations such as police forces, firefighters, and transportation organizations also use the term. The call is always given three times in a row ("Mayday Mayday Mayday") to prevent mistaking it for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions, and to distinguish an actual Mayday call from a message about a Mayday call

Three calls of pan-pan are used in radiotelephone communications[1][2][3] to signify that there is an urgency on board a boat, ship, aircraft, or other vehicle but that, for the time being at least, there is no immediate danger to anyone's life or to the vessel itself.[4] This is referred to as a state of urgency. This is distinct from a mayday call, which means that there is imminent danger to life or to the continued viability of the vessel itself.[5] Thus "pan-pan" informs potential rescuers (including emergency services and other craft in the area) that a safety problem exists whereas "mayday" will call upon them to drop all other activities and immediately initiate a rescue attempt
The USCG

A vessel at rest, even in open ocean, occurs naturally all over the world. If you can't determine clearly the conditions of the two factors above, and you don't want to come alongside, it's really an impossible call to make correctly. You either leave the hazard needlessly or hazard the men and women of the USCG needlessly. However, IMHO, the USCG should NEVER be called for a routine call that can be handled by TowBoat US. People die when those calls are made. It's not only the (potential) victims, it's occasionally the folks putting their lives on the line.

One approach would be to set sail. In high winds, you can always sail upwind on reefed sails. It's physics. An engine may not have the drive against the wind, but the wind physics MUST push a boat upwind on sails.

Conversely, not everyone's the sailor they think they are to sail in heavy seas. There's no 'right' call when experience is a factor of consideration. That said, the USCG 'clears' many more distress calls than effects actual rescues, so with that just be assured they did an after action review/lessons learned and you should too because there will certainly be a 'next time'.

Food for thought, hopefully

Dana Beausoleil
USN/USCG Ship Inspector
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Old 04-08-2015, 10:17   #11
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Quote:
Originally Posted by markol0 View Post
I was out on the water outside cape town. Us and another boat were the only things in sight about a mile east off shore. The other boat was flapping sails for a quite a while when we were approaching (maybe 10 minutes) in another direction. On closer inspection main was half way up, maybe reefed, jib collapsed in a pile on deck, and no one in sight. There was 25 knot wind with bigger gusts in 3 foot seas. The boat looked rugged.

I stayed with him a few minutes then kept going and reported to Coast Guard. Gave them all the data, but once a mile away, could not get back to them due to heading being into the wind and engine barely being strong enough to fight the gusts.

CG sent a boat out, issued pan pan for possible men in the water. About two hours later they found the boat, and apparently skipper was on deck by that point.

Should I have called this in? Anything you would have done differently?
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Old 04-08-2015, 10:40   #12
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Marko10 ~ This was not a prank call. You were concerned for the safety of the boat and crew (as you should have been). It's the job of the Coast Guard to respond to calls such as yours. Otherwise, why are they there??? Good job!
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Old 04-08-2015, 10:47   #13
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Given the situation that you described I would have assumed there was a problem and used any method at hand to try (radio, horn, etc.) to make contact, as well as search the immediate area. If the boat appeared to be seaworthy would probably be even more of a red flag. If the tables were reversed and i was on the other boat, I would hope someone would check and make sure i was OK. In retrospect I would guess that the owner had a problem and was down below trying to fix it, but what if it was more serious.

Bottom line, my vote is that it was ABSOLUTELY right thing to notify the CG.
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Old 04-08-2015, 10:55   #14
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Seems like the right call to me. If conditions were not safe for you to approach (and they sounded a bit dodgy), then you notified the CG on the basis of what you couldn't see: people on deck, half-buggered sails, no evidence of the boat being "under command". That suggests either a) incompetence, or b) solo skipper retired below to have a heart attack, or c) "unknown".

It was prudent seamanship by proxy to call it in, particularly in worsening conditions.
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Old 04-08-2015, 11:16   #15
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Re: Should I have called the Coast Guard

Gonna take awhile for Towboat US to get to Cape Town.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dbeausoleil View Post
You stated you were in high winds, at least sea state 3 (or better). Your description sounds like a vessel actually rigged for high winds. Jib is down, main is reefed, or dropped and, actually, 10 minutes is not a long time to tend to a sailboat offshore.

In heavy seas, especially single-handed, it's not inconceivable for a skipper to drop sails and leave them where they lie while tending to alternatives (e.g. deploying a storm sail/sea anchor).

The USCG gets (and vets) a massive number of calls. Many are fictitious MayDays. Deployment of sailors and equipment is both expensive and dangerous. The best approach is to investigate, but keep a safe distance. If no response to hails, the USCG should be contacted w/standard identification and location information for them to make the call. Likely, during that time, they'd ask and answer all the questions you're asking.

Mayday is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in voice procedure radio communications.
It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency primarily by mariners and aviators, but in some countries local organizations such as police forces, firefighters, and transportation organizations also use the term. The call is always given three times in a row ("Mayday Mayday Mayday") to prevent mistaking it for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions, and to distinguish an actual Mayday call from a message about a Mayday call

Three calls of pan-pan are used in radiotelephone communications[1][2][3] to signify that there is an urgency on board a boat, ship, aircraft, or other vehicle but that, for the time being at least, there is no immediate danger to anyone's life or to the vessel itself.[4] This is referred to as a state of urgency. This is distinct from a mayday call, which means that there is imminent danger to life or to the continued viability of the vessel itself.[5] Thus "pan-pan" informs potential rescuers (including emergency services and other craft in the area) that a safety problem exists whereas "mayday" will call upon them to drop all other activities and immediately initiate a rescue attempt
The USCG

A vessel at rest, even in open ocean, occurs naturally all over the world. If you can't determine clearly the conditions of the two factors above, and you don't want to come alongside, it's really an impossible call to make correctly. You either leave the hazard needlessly or hazard the men and women of the USCG needlessly. However, IMHO, the USCG should NEVER be called for a routine call that can be handled by TowBoat US. People die when those calls are made. It's not only the (potential) victims, it's occasionally the folks putting their lives on the line.

One approach would be to set sail. In high winds, you can always sail upwind on reefed sails. It's physics. An engine may not have the drive against the wind, but the wind physics MUST push a boat upwind on sails.

Conversely, not everyone's the sailor they think they are to sail in heavy seas. There's no 'right' call when experience is a factor of consideration. That said, the USCG 'clears' many more distress calls than effects actual rescues, so with that just be assured they did an after action review/lessons learned and you should too because there will certainly be a 'next time'.

Food for thought, hopefully

Dana Beausoleil
USN/USCG Ship Inspector
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