Emergency Preparedness, and Towing
All boat owners may encounter a variety of emergency situations while at sea. These could include equipment breakdown, taking on water, fire, grounding, collision, man overboard, medical events, and criminal acts. When emergency situations occur, it is important that everyone on board stay alert, be ready to assist, be informed of the operator’s intentions and the vessel’s ability to respond, and be given clear assignments that will aid the recovery process. A vessel should have an Emergency Management plan on board that includes items such as how to operate the boat and its radio, how to determine the boat’s position, and directions for locating where different types of emergency equipment is stored on the boat (medical kits with first aid instructions, fire extinguishers, distress signal apparatus, spare parts, pumps, life jackets, life rafts).
Man Overboard (MOB)
A common cause for loss of life at sea is a person falling overboard. A man overboard occurrence is a serious emergency. The first person to see a man go overboard becomes the observer who should keep his/her eyes on, and point directly at the victim at all times, while immediately loudly yelling “Man Overboard” to alert the operator of the vessel. A life ring or flotation device should be thrown overboard ASAP! The operator will come around to retrieve the victim from a leeward position. Unless you are trained to to so, jumping into the water to assist a person who has fallen overboard is not advised as it creates a double MOB situation.
By law it is the operator’s responsibility to assist a vessel in distress. Failure to respond can result in a fine or prison sentence. The only time an operator can refuse to assist is if helping places the responding vessel or its passengers in danger. In such circumstances the operator should make sure the Coast Guard is notified, and stand by.
When you come upon a vessel in need of assistance you must first contact the other vessel. Questions you should ask are: Do you need, or have you called for assistance? What is the nature of your problem? How many people on board (any children)? Is anyone below deck? Is anyone in need of medical attention? Are you taking on water? Do you have a radio or cell phone (take the number)? Is everyone onboard waring a lifejacket (if not put them on)? What is your destination?
Once you collect this information notify the Coast Guard of the situation, then determine if you should and can render assistance. If yes, proceed to take the stranded vessel into a tow if sea conditions permit. Remember to come up to speed slowly, and then proceed at a safe speed for towing. If it is not safe, or you are otherwise unable to tow, instruct the disabled vessel to drop anchor. Stand-by to take people out of the water if the damaged vessel is lost before help arrives.
Do not attempt to tow a vessel on fire. Instruct passengers to wear lifejackets, abandon ship if necessary, stay together in the water, swim into the wind, and wait for you to pick them up as soon as they can be safely approached.