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Chapter 4

Pre-Departure Checklist & Passenger Communication

Before you leave the dock, be sure you have everything you will need for your trip. You want to be prepared for any possibility on the water, and you should make sure that you have not overlooked any rules or precautions. Once you're out on the water, you're not going to want to return to the dock to pick up whatever you left behind. The best way to be sure you have everything is to go through the checklist shown in the equipment requirements table before you leave.

Required Equipment

The following equipment is required by the U.S. Coast Guard:

Minimum Equipment Requirements for Recreational Boats

Equipment and Documents

Length less than 16 ft

Length between 16 ft and 26 ft

Length between 26 ft and 40 ft

Length between 40 ft and 65 ft

State Registration

Required

Required

Required

Required

Boat Numbers Displayed

Required

Required

Required

Required

Certificate of Documentation

International travel only

International travel only

Required if vessel measures 5 net tons or more

Required

PFDs (lifejackets)

One wearable PFD per person

One wearable PFD per person plus one throwable PFD

One wearable PFD per person plus one throwable PFD

One wearable PFD per person plus one throwable PFD

Fire Extinguisher

One Type B-1

One Type B-1

Two Type B-1 or one Type B-2

Three Type B-1, or one Type B-1 and one Type B-2

Visual Distress Signals

Signals for nighttime use

Signals for daytime and nighttime use

Signals for daytime and nighttime use

Signals for daytime and nighttime use

Sound producing Device

Handheld air horn or whistle

Handheld air horn or whistle

Handheld air horn or whistle

Handheld air horn or whistle and a bell

Proper Ventilation

Blower fan or ventilator ducts

Blower fan or ventilator ducts

Blower fan or ventilator ducts

Blower fan or ventilator ducts

Backfire Flame Arrestor

One required, except for outboard motors

One required, except for outboard motors

One required, except for outboard motors

One required, except for outboard motors

Navigation Lights

Required from sunset to sunrise

Required from sunset to sunrise

Required from sunset to sunrise

Required from sunset to sunrise

Oil Pollution Placard

Not required

Not required

Required

Required

Garbage Placard

Not required

Not required

Required

Required

Marine Sanitation Device

Type I, II, or III if toilet is installed

Type I, II, or III if toilet is installed

Type I, II, or III if toilet is installed

Type I, II, or III if toilet is installed

Navigation Rules

Not required

Not required

Not required

Required

For more details, go to the U.S. Coast Guard website at http://wow.uscgaux.info/content.php?unit=V-DEPT&category=virtual-safety-check.

None of the following supplies or equipment is required, but if the situation comes up, you'll be glad you have what you need.

Anchor and tackle Extra fuel and oil
Spare water pump impeller (for inboard engines) Spare fuel filter
Mooring lines and heaving line Oars or paddles
Extra 25–30 feet of line Flashlight
Fenders and boat hook Search light
Charts of the area First aid kit
Magnetic compass Sunscreen and hat
Portable, waterproof VHF marine radio Mirror for signaling
Manual bilge pump or bucket Food and water
Tool kit Protective clothing
Spare parts AM-FM radio
Spare battery Cell phone in waterproof container
Spare propeller Binoculars
GPS  

GPS Device

A GPS device can tell you the exact coordinates of your boat. If you need to call for help, knowing your exact location will help the rescuers find you quicker.

VHF Marine Radio

If you have a VHF (very high frequency) marine radio onboard, you will have an additional method for monitoring the weather and local conditions and hazards, as well as a way to ask for or give assistance. Commonly used channels are shown in this table

Common VHF Radio Channels
Channel Purpose
6 Intership safety communications
13 Navigation safety
16 Distress and safety calls and hailing
22 U.S. Coast Guard and the maritime safety information broadcasts
24, 28 Public phone calls
68, 69, 71, 72 Recreational vessel radio and ship to coast

Be sure to test your VHF radio regularly. You can conduct a radio check on Channel 9, but the best way to check your radio is to find another boater with a radio and call her requesting a radio check. If your radio is working properly, she can reply by telling you that she reads you loud and clear. This way, you can check the speaker and the microphone, as well as the ability to transmit.

In the event of an emergency, you must be able to respond quickly and communicate your situation to relevant authorities. The following is a short list of proper terminology and procedures to use on your VHF marine radio. If you ever get into real trouble out there on the water, using your radio correctly could save you, your crew, and your boat!

Terms to Use for Emergency Situations
Term Meaning
Roger I understand your transmission. (You don't need to agree with it.)
Wilco I understand your transmission, and I will comply with your request.
Affirmative Yes. (Do not say "yes" or "OK.")
Negative No.
Niner The number nine.
Over I have completed my statement and am awaiting your reply.
Out I have completed my communication, and I am returning to the hailing channel.

Mayday Calls

Only use a Mayday call for situations in which "there is immediate risk of loss of property or life." If your vessel is sinking or on fire, or if someone on board is seriously injured or ill, issue a Mayday call.

Say "MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY; this is the vessel  (name or number)   , I repeat this is the vessel   (name or number)   , again the vessel   (name or number)   " (state the name or registration number of your vessel three times). State your call sign (if you have a station license).

Then begin your message:

Say "Mayday, the vessel   (name or number)   , " state your position (preferably latitude and longitude or by geographical reference), the nature of your emergency, a description of your vessel, and the number of people on board your boat. Say again the name or number of your vessel and your call sign. Stay calm and speak slowly.

Then UNKEY the microphone (release the button), and wait for a response.

If you get no response after a minute or so, repeat the entire broadcast. If you still get no response, your radio might not be working. Be prepared to use flares and other distress signals to get help.

While waiting for a response, assign someone to make sure your emergency procedures are followed: put on PFDs, gather emergency supplies, and get your flares and any other signaling devices ready.

STAY CALM. You need to set the example for your passengers.

Hearing a Mayday Call

If you hear a Mayday call, stay off the radio. The U.S. Coast Guard or other enforcement agency will handle it. However, take a minute and write down the information given in the broadcast.

Once a Mayday call is issued, the "code of silence" goes into effect.

Sending a Mayday Relay Call

The only exception to this code of silence is if the Coast Guard specifically asks for help from vessels in the area or if you are required to relay the Mayday broadcast. For example, suppose you are 10 miles offshore and you hear a Mayday call. Two minutes after the Mayday call, the Coast Guard hasn't responded. The original sender repeats the Mayday transmission, and the Coast Guard still doesn't respond. The vessel sending the call either has a weak signal or is too far offshore for the Coast Guard to receive the signal. You are then required to perform a Mayday relay call.

To send a Mayday relay call, repeat the original transmission, except use the term "Mayday Relay" and the name and call sign of your vessel. Don't hesitate to perform the relay.

You may also relay a Mayday call if you actually see a vessel in trouble (on fire or sinking) or have been asked by the owner or captain of the distressed vessel to perform a Mayday relay.

Standing by to Assist

If the Coast Guard calls for a vessel in the area to assist, or if you are in the area and in a position to assist, head for the distressed vessel. When there's a break in the transmissions, call the Coast Guard with your offer to provide assistance.

Pan-Pan Calls

A Pan-Pan (pronounced pahn-pahn) call is an urgent message indicating that a vessel is in trouble but is not in immediate danger. For example, if the captain becomes incapacitated, or your motor stops working and you are in danger of being swept out of the inlet into high seas, you should send a Pan-Pan call.

When sending a Pan-Pan call, say "Pan-Pan" three times, and then proceed with the information and format as for a Mayday call.

If you hear a Pan-Pan call, proceed as you would for a Mayday call.

Securité Call

A Securité (pronounced see-cure-ah-tay) call is a message indicating a navigational safety concern like a large piece of debris floating in the water or a meteorological warning like a sudden storm with high winds.

Onboard Safety Discussion

After you get everyone on board, spend a few minutes telling them the rules for your boat. If your passengers know what you expect of them, they will be better able to prevent accidents, increase safety, and respond more effectively if there's an emergency. You should also conduct a mock training session with your passengers so they understand and know what to expect in an emergency situation.

  • Give everyone their PFD and explain why they should wear one, where they are located, and how to put it on properly. If they don't put on their PFD, be sure they put it someplace they can get to it quickly in an emergency. Tell them if there is an emergency and you tell them to put on their PFD, they must immediately put it on.
  • Show everyone where the fire extinguishers, first-aid kit, visual distress signals, and other emergency equipment are located. Show them the location of the emergency radio, and explain how to use it.
  • Explain to your passengers where the distress signal equipment is and how to use it.
  • Show everyone where the first-aid kit is located.
  • In small boats, tell everyone to stay in their seat. If they need to move around the boat, tell them to do so carefully. In larger boats, tell everyone when they move around the boat to use one hand to hold onto something attached to the boat.
  • Explain to them when and how the anchor will be used, and how to handle the lines when docking, undocking, and anchoring.
  • Show everyone where the emergency radio is located. Explain to them which channel to use for an emergency as well as the terms used in an emergency and how to send emergency requests for help.
  • Tell them what will happen if the weather or water conditions turn bad.
  • Tell them what to do if someone falls overboard or if they fall overboard (see Chapter 5).
  • If your boat is equipped with a head (toilet), explain how it works and what not to put in it.
  • Appoint someone to take over the operation of the boat if something happens to you. Make sure they know how to operate the boat.
  • Discuss any other rules that are specific to the areas in which you will be boating.
Chapter 4

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