I was asked by another member
of this forum to talk about what boaters can do to assist rescue
efforts should they ever find themselves in need of help. First, let me introduce myself-
My name is Jeff Daigle and I am a USCG helicopter pilot. I grew up sailing in Long Island Sound
and went to Texas
Maritime Academy for college. I graduated there with a degree in Marine
Transportation along with an International Unlimited Tonnage Third Mate’s License
. Rather than working as a Merchant Marine
, I received a commission in the Coast Guard. I’m currently stationed in Atlantic City, NJ flying the HH and MH65C helicopters. I own and race
a J22, I’m working on restoring a 1967 16’ Boston Whaler, and I should be taking possession of a 1980 Cape Dory
33 this week.
Please note that everything I say here is my opinion- I don’t speak for the USCG. My thoughts come from being both a sailor and a search and rescue
(SAR) pilot. I’m happy to entertain discourse, so throw your doubts at me as you’d like.
Nobody ever plans on needing to be rescued, but there are things that everyone can do to prior to getting underway to set themselves up for success. Most of these are simple, and in this post I’ll address them. I’ll write another post that addresses the appropriate actions during a rescue.
First, lifejackets are a must. In my mind, nothing is more important when buying
a lifejacket than its comfort. My wife and I both have PFDs that are comfortable enough to be worn every time we get underway. Kayak/paddling PFDs are the best in my opinion because they are slim fitting and allow unencumbered movement- others might have more flotation, but they do you no good if they are so uncomfortable that you don’t wear them. I absolutely HATE seeing kids
in Type 1 Yoke style jackets- they are so uncomfortable that it only teaches the child to despise PFDs. They do float great, and they always turn you face up, but very few people would ever wear one unless it was absolutely necessary. If you have a child, PLEASE let them choose their own lifejacket. My niece screams bloody murder when she’s forced to wear a PFD
, unless of course it’s her Dora the Explorer jacket in which case she’ll happily wear it all day. Kids
are too funny
to let drown. Bright colored lifejackets with reflective tape are great, but it won’t make much of a difference since the majority of the lifejacket will be underwater. Avoid dark colors, but don’t assume a fluorescent PFD
is all you need to be found. The first thing you should do in any emergency
situation is have ALL crew members don their lifejackets if they aren’t already being worn. If one crewmember gets hurt, everybody puts on their lifejackets - it’s as simple as that. You’ve just eliminated a certain element of risk since people tend to get anxious and clumsy when things go wrong.
Please consider using brightly colored bottom paint
, even if you only use it on the keel
. In a single
day last summer I responded to two capsized boats. The weather
was absolutely perfect, the sun was up, and the boats were 25 and 38 feet long. They both had the typical blue bottom paint
, and I could not see either of them until I was within a quarter mile or so. Blue bottom paint
is camouflage, and camouflage is not helpful when you want to be found.
Have a back up VHF
Cell phones are actually great signaling devices- the cellular network is far larger than we often like to give it credit for. If you can call the Coast Guard on a cell phone
, we now have a dedicated line of communication with you without tying up Channel 16. Don’t consider your cell phone
to be your back up VHF
Know how to use your GPS
. This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times we show up to at the coordinates a distressed vessel passes to find that they sent us a waypoint, not their current
position. Make sure your crew and passengers know how to view your current
position in case they are the ones who need to pass it. Maybe a post-it note or plaque near your GPS
that says “Push (whatever button) to view current position” would help- work out your own system, but be sure you’re not wasting critical time by sending us to your favorite anchorage vice directly to your side.
Register your EPIRBs! We really do query this information during SAR cases. EPIRBs that are registered also get a lot more attention on our end after hours and hours of searching because we know it actually belongs to somebody and isn’t going to end up being found in a FedEx truck.
ELTs are not useless. I’ve seen several posts on the internet
about how 121.5MHz transmitters are no longer useful, and some posts even directed readers to throw them away! Crazy. Any signaling method you have is better than nothing. The much-publicized phase out of 121.5 transmitters is in regards to activating SAR assets, not in regards to listening for the signal. If we are looking for somebody and we suddenly detect a 121.5 broadcast, we will use our direction finding equipment
to home in on it. I don’t know a single
CG pilot that doesn’t listen to 121.5 every flight (training flights, law enforcement, search and rescue- all flights). I wear a watch with an incorporated 121.5 transmitter every time I fly, sail, or paddle. Don’t be talked out of using a 121.5 transmitter. New purchases would be better directed towards EPIRBs and PLBs, but that’s more a function of capability- obviously it’s better to broadcast a position than a homing signal.
File float plans. Tell someone you trust where you are going and when you expect to be there. Once you reach your destination
, let them know you made it safely. Coordinate with them how long to wait after you should have arrived before they contact the Coast Guard.
Leave your pride at the dock
. Please remember that those of us in the helicopters and boats have families too. If you are too prideful to ask for our assistance early, I assure you that come nighttime your pride will have vanished. All emergencies seem worse at night for a good reason- they typically are. Don’t forget that your rescue is more difficult at night and that subjects your rescuers to a much higher risk. We all want to help you make it home to your families- you can help us do the same by asking for help as soon as you need it, not once the situation escalates out of control.
Get educated. Safety
at Sea seminars are worth your time. Safe boating classes
are held everywhere. Sign up for these events- I know it’s easy to say “I’m more experienced than the guy teaching the class” or “I just did a class like that a couple years back”, but resist that urge. You might learn one thing that will save your life (or more importantly to some people- your boat)! Or, if you actually are that experienced, maybe you’ll have something worthwhile to add to the class that will safe someone else’s life.
Take some time to think about what you can do to protect yourself and your crew. A little foresight goes a long way. I hope you find this helpful. I’ll post again with what you can do during the rescue efforts. That’s where all the excitement is!