Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Three-Hour Tour...

Over the last five years, as I've worked on my book and (most recently) an explore article about the Thanksgiving Howe Sound kayaking tragedy, I've had the good fortune to chat with many of the men and women from Canada's Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a few south of the border, too. I've learned a lot about their training, their equipment, their rescue strategies and tactics, and their personalities. These are folks who put themselves into seriously precarious weather conditions to rescue mariners gone astray—and do it on a volunteer basis, in the case of Auxiliary units. Brave stuff, in other words.

They've also got a sense of humour, too, as this recent safety reminder from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary shows:

Most of us remember the S.S. Minnow from the 1960’s sitcom Gilligan’s Island. That voyage was crewed by a mighty sailing man (Gilligan) and a sure and brave skipper. They were only going to be out for a three-hour tour but ran into some bad weather. What most people don’t know is that the brave and sure skipper never filed a Float Plan, failed to check the weather forecast and did not carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon or EPIRB thereby delaying search efforts for weeks and making locating them on an uncharted deserted island almost impossible.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary strongly suggests that all recreational boaters, regardless of the size of their boat, carry with them not only the federal and local mandated safety equipment, but also a VHF Radio and a EPIRB, which are not mandated. If the Minnow carried an EPIRB there never would have been a series since the five passengers and crew would have been located very quickly.

The filing of a Float Plan with friends, relatives and your marina enables these people to inform the Coast Guard when you don't arrive at the point your are supposed to when are expected to arrive. When properly completed the Float Plan contains information to make the search faster and easier. In the case of the Minnow no one knew they were overdue for several weeks.

A Float Plan asks such questions as what type of boat, what is your proposed itinerary, do you have a radio, how many people on board, etc. The answers can shorten the process of locating a missing boater.

Although we have made a little light out of the voyage of the Minnow, safe boating and seamanship is no joke. For more information about safe boating, check out the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Of course, if the Minnow did have an EPIRB, I wouldn't have whiled away so many after-school afternoons in front of the boob tube, enjoying the fine tradition of desert-island fantasies: a plot line that has led from The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe, through Gilligan and friends, to Survivor and Lost, with hundreds of New Yorker cartoons in between. But gripping adventure lit (as well as cheesy sitcoms) is often the description of what happens when things go wrong—and sometimes that includes some pretty bad judgements in safety planning.

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