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Managing Safety At Sea

Being underway during a beautiful day on a comfortable vessel is exhilarating! Events that occur become lifetime memories. Activities can include cruising to a beautiful cove with deep clear water, landing a big fish, running at high speeds, and piloting the boat in rough weather. To ensure everyone’s safety throughout the journey there is a wide range of activities that allow familiar mates and guests to help the Skipper by acting jointly as a well-polished crew.

Skipper … In most recreational boating situations the Skipper is the owner. He, or she usually takes responsibility for organizing the day and charting the course to the intended destination. The Skipper also assures that the boat, its supplies, fuel, and equipment are in good condition. Generally speaking, the Skipper and a relative or close friend will know how to operate and maintain all the equipment on board. Once underway the Skipper will manage the day’s events in most respects.

Helmsman … If you use a helmsman be certain that the person chosen is proficient at holding the ship on a steady course, understands the navigational rules of the road, and properly communicates with the Skipper in relation to the ship’s heading and speed, sea conditions, sea traffic, observed changes in weather, and as importantly perceived changes in the ships operational equipment. Ideally, there should always be a second person aboard who can safely operate the boat.

Deckhands … Deckhands on recreational boats are not always someone who has been professionally trained. However, they are boating enthusiasts who have learned through hands-on experience. They have good knowledge of a boat’s characteristics, limitations, and safety equipment. They also know what they should do if the unexpected occurs. Typical tasks performed by deckhands include preparing lines for mooring the boat, rigging fenders; plus monitoring the ship’s radio, electronic chart system, and radar. Other tasks are helping to fuel the boat, and standing watch while underway.

Watch Standing … Performed by a lookout, standing watch means keeping an eye out for unexpected events, approaching hazards, other ships or land, and monitoring the radar. When you are acting as a lookout keep your eyes open and your ears alert for unusual sounds. You should also use your nose. Odors such as smoke or fuel are indications of danger. Place yourself where your vision is not obstructed and you are not in an area close to loud background noises. Watch Standing Tools … Binoculars, sunglasses and electronic night vision devices are highly effective tools that increase the lookout’s effectiveness. While they are all very good at enhancing the lookout’s vision; at the same time, some of these restrict the field of vision being scanned. It is a good practice for the lookout to switch between unaided scanning and vision enhancing tools. Scanning … The practice of scanning is a best practice followed by all boaters who regularly stand watch. Scanning is a step-by-step methodology that helps to enhance the process of searching with naked eyes. Good scanning techniques help ensure that objects are not missed. The most common method is to slowly scan left to right and back again. This overlapping process gives objects of the search a better chance of being spotted. Top to bottom and up again is also useful at times. In either case don’t quickly swish your head back and forth. Scanning is a deliberate process. Move in 10 degree increments, stop for a second or two then repeat this process until your target is spotted. It is also a good practice to keep your eyes still while moving your head left to right or up and down in the incremental manner described. This method creates the illusion that the objects in the background are moving slightly and thus become easier to spot.

Weather Watch … Keeping an eye out for changes in the weather is key to ensuring the vessel and passenger’s safety. One of the most dangerous challenges encountered by every ship’s crew is operating in restricted visibility caused by heavy rain, fog, and severe storms. Monitor the ship’s radio for weather broadcasts. Have the lookouts scan for fog, darkening skies, increasing clouds, and developing rough seas on the horizon. Quickly take precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. Slow down, know how to interpret the meaning of different fog signals, proceed at a safe speed, and navigate with caution.

Anchor Watch An anchor watch is set when the boat is at anchor. The assigned person on watch must ensure that the anchor line does not chafe and that the anchor does not drag. The individual on watch also looks for other vessels in the area. Even when the boat is anchored, there is the possibility that it can be hit by another boat that has set anchor to close.

Navigation Aides and Landmark Watch … Electronic navigation systems are a game changer for safety at sea. The process of manually plotting on a paper chart is almost a lost art. Even NOAA has engaged the public for comment on the process by which paper charts will be phased out. This said, paper charts do have value in emergencies. Regardless of what the final decision is, all electronic devices will remain subject to failure. So, keep the charts you have onboard ship. Use your seaman’s eye to spot the landmarks and navigation aids you see. This info will help you recover if electronic failure occurs.

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