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Personal Flotation Devices

Regarding PDFs (Personal Flotation Devices), or life preservers, your Instructor, I am confident, will provide you with the information to fully understand their importance. It bears repeating that where you place them is a critical part of their usefulness. You have to be able to access them quickly, since most man overboard instances occur suddenly. In actuality, most of the individuals who fall overboard are not wearing a PFD, so the timeliness in throwing one to them is critical. Therefore, having them nearby is important, as well as ready to wear or throw. Taking them out of their plastic wrapper or protective case is a must, since this might be one time that cleanliness is second.

Whenever we invited guests on our boat, we always had a talk with them about the way we handle weather-related events. We explained that we were very cautious and preferred preventative measures, rather than last minute drama. So if the wind starts to pick up, or the sky begins to look ominous, or the surf is getting choppy, we would put on our preservers. We developed this strategy of notification beforehand because we had previously had a couple joining us on one of our journeys and the weather started to deteriorate. We would have put on our PFDs but I was afraid to suggest same because the woman was frightened and I was concerned that she might panic at that suggestion. My husband managed to defuse that situation by playing our island music loudly and doing a round-tummied hula that made everyone laugh, so we could put on the life preservers and enhance his hysterical gyrations!

More information regarding PFDs continues:  about 15 years ago, there was a family enjoying a sailing adventure in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolina’s, but when they approached an unfamiliar inlet at night, they ran into the rock wall which formed one side of the inlet. Their vessel was severely damaged and all five, two parents and three sons, were tossed into the water. Four of the five emerged unscathed; however, one of the boys drowned. They found his body the next morning, and his life preserver was still on him. Yet, no one at that time could explain why it did not function. Once per year, have members of your “usual crew” put on their marked life preservers, get into the water and test that this vital lifesaver will do its job if needed.

In most instances, when a vessel overturns it will float but it cannot be righted. Indeed, in 2009, four strong football players, three of whom eventually lost their lives, could not overturn their capsized boat, since you have no leverage while floating in the water. The contents of the overturned vessel may be unreachable and this includes the life preservers. Therefore, we would tie a line around the preservers and our ditch bag and attach same to a cleat. If the boat overturned, we would be able to retrieve same by pulling on the line, without having to dive under the overturned boat. Just be sure that tying the preservers to the cleat does not interfere with their timely accessibility.

Some Boater Safety Basics

Let’s suppose you followed my plan and decided to learn about boating through a Boating Safety Class. Since I taught that class to more than 4000 students, I would like to share some information which may, or may not, be addressed by your instructor.

The first chapter of the class revolves around basic boat types and engine choices for various vessels. It is important to note that boats are made for differing environments. A vessel that might be perfectly safe in a small lake may become unsafe in the ocean. If you are going to use your boat in the ocean, you must be sure that it is safe, a “blue water vessel”,  by speaking to the boat dealer, looking online for manufacturer verification, etc. One obvious component of an ocean going vessel is the boat’s freeboard. Without sufficient freeboard, ocean waves will spill into the vessel and possible cause it to sink.  As you can see from the ocean going vessels shown below, their freeboard is high enough to keep the ocean swells from entering over the bow (front of the vessel).

red blue and white fishing boats on dock during daytime

Another important component of safe boating is the engine/engines. My experience is predominantly with inboard vessels and I can say, unequivocally, twin inboards are easier to dock and maneuver than single inboards. I can hear the yelling from those who disagree, but those single inboarders will usually have a bow or stern thruster, turning their single engine into a fake twin engine!!

Also, there is some disagreement between those who think gasoline engines are better than diesel and vice versa. Rather than repeat the details your boating safety instructor will provide, I just want to give you my opinion, influenced in large part because my husband had some really bad experiences with gasoline. His bottom line was gasoline FUMES can explode, so we always purchased a vessel with diesel  engines. However, please keep in mind that most manufacturers only offer diesels on vessels over 30 to 35’, and diesels engines are more costly than gasoline.

Another important item to emphasize pertains to the capacity plate on your boat or in your manual. It will usually say, US Coast Guard Maximum Capacities, and then it will give the number of persons along with their weight suggestion, followed by the number of pounds including persons and gear. Many people just see the number of people allowed on the boat and look no further. But this is erroneous and dangerous. You must take the gear, and the equipment, and that heavy cooler into consideration. The reason this is important is that too much weight on a vessel makes it unstable, and prone to capsize.

One of the more common reasons why boats capsize is that they become unstable when all of the occupants lean to one side. This is true of all vessels, particularly of the smaller, lighter ones. So be aware when someone says, “hey, look at that big fish on the left side of the vessel” to warn your guests not to all move in that direction simultaneously.

 

Boating Safety Course Is The Best First Step

As discussed previously, taking a Boating Safety Course is the best first step in preparing yourself to become an accomplished boater. While I took all of my courses with my husband, I believe that it can be advantageous to take the course by yourself. While I am not familiar with each of your relationships, many if not most function with the man acting as protector, especially in a male dominated sport like boating. Therefore, when we women take the course with our significant others, we have a tendency to listen with the ears of a secondary or supportive person instead of the primary and responsible individual. To truly learn how to become the skipper of your vessel, you need to absorb the material as though you are going to be in charge, the actual decision maker.

When my husband and I lived aboard we really did become partners, even though I knew that he was the more equal partner! My real power came into play when I was not strong enough to handle the lines on our live aboard and I had to dock the 48’ beauty. Docking the vessel, in my opinion the most difficult part of maneuvering the boat, put me (at first reluctantly, then hesitantly, and finally confidently) in a position of responsibility that forced me to absorb the finite details I would have overlooked in a totally secondary role. Therefore, with or without the blessing of your significant other, take the course as though you were going to be alone on the vessel.  I don’t want to suggest that you take over the control of the boat; as a matter of fact I have seen some women berate their significant others in a very distasteful way. I am just trying to have you create the mindset that will allow you to digest the subtleties of the subject matter so that you know what is going on and, if needed, can bring the boat back safely to shore in an emergency.  This will reward you with a great feeling of self assurance and will make you and your significant other safer.

Woman To Woman Boating

Let me explain for a moment why I am starting this blog. A few months ago, a friend asked me to give a seminar for a group of women pertaining to boat docking. About 30 or so women attended and, when I had completed my presentation, most of them came up to me and asked me to provide them with more information regarding our sport. Their plea was so sincere, and so unanimous, that I felt I had to try to reach out to those women who wanted to become better boaters.

It is interesting to me to note that there are very few sources of info on boating available to women from women. Quite a few male-dominated forums do attempt to instruct women in the art of boating but, quite honestly, we do learn differently and relate to the instructor in a different way when the gender is dissimilar. So I am going to try to provide you with the knowledge I obtained thru many years of boating, beginning with my early tasks which revolved around keeping the children quiet, to docking our live aboard and charter boats for the last years of our boating life.

Just a few more comments before we begin this journey together. I am now an “older woman” and I see clearly the difference in attitude between myself and my three daughters and seven granddaughters. So much of my life was spent in the “traditional roles” dictated by my societal environment that there may be some reflection of same in my commentary; please understand and overlook any antiquated attitudes. Also, please keep in mind that all of my comments are MY opinion.  Others may have legitimate differing thoughts based upon their knowledge and experience.

So, where do we begin? What do you need to know and what do you want to know? How did I learn about the sport of boating? My involvement was minimal initially, but it became intense when the decision was made to live aboard. My husband and I took five courses with the US Power Squadron the year before we moved aboard. These classes, from the Basic Boating Course up to Advanced Piloting, prepared us theoretically for the live aboard life, and ultimately became the foundation for us to get our six-pack Captains License.

Note the word “theoretically” in the sentence above. Classroom instruction is a vital part of learning to boat safely but ultimately you have to take that knowledge onto the water, put it into practice, and learn hands on to become an accomplished boater.