Nine Tips In Case You Become Stranded On The Water
You can only imagine the pit in my stomach when a co-worker threw a hand-written letter on my desk and casually told me to be careful because “this one looks extra anthrax-like.” To my utter delight, what I found was a letter from a man who wanted to tell me about boating in the 1950s. On his first date with his future wife, he took her out on his homemade boat. But when they reached the middle of the lake, the motor failed. Not seeing anyone else in sight and wanting to impress his girl, he decided to use a rope to attach himself to the light-weight vessel and swim the boat back to shore. Luckily, he made it and the couple went on to be married for 59 years.
While I was inspired by this love story, I can’t think of very many scenarios where I would recommend trying to swim a modern-day boat to shore.
But what should you do in the event of engine problems? There are a few basic water safety survival skills you can implement to ensure a safe ending to a day that’s gone bad. Of course, it would be hard to plan for every contingency, but let’s talk about what to do if you become stranded on an inland lake due to engine failure.
1. Stay calm. Not freaking out or losing your cool is a must. As the captain, you need to keep your passengers trust. No one listens to a person screaming or acting irrational. Yes, you are probably upset by the turn of events but no one needs to hear about it until everything has been taken care of.
2. Stay with the boat if you can. If your boat is actively taking on water, it may be necessary to tighten up the life jacket and get in the water. The suction from a sinking boat will pull you under, so swim away quickly. But don’t get out unless you are out of options. The boat is bigger and will attract more attention than a bobbing figure in the water. Even if you can see the shore, the cold water will get to you and take so much more energy than you would expect. Your best bet in the event of engine failure is to anchor your boat down and wait for assistance.
3. Consider insurance. On-water towing insurance will cover the hauling of your boat to a service area if it stalls, runs out of gas or is in an accident. This feature is included in a lot of marine insurance policies or can be purchased separately. A boat tow can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 or more. By contrast, boat-towing insurance is typically very reasonable at about $50 to $100 per year.
4. Have emergency equipment on hand. You should equip your boat with standard safety equipment. Maybe the chance of complete engine failure seems unlikely to you. But trust me, I’ve seen it happen. Put together a kit with the following equipment: EPIRB (emergency positioning indicating radio beacon), dye packs or water markers, flares and a small air horn.
5. Carry extras. On an inland lake, you will most likely see someone else fairly quickly and hopefully can get help fast. But make sure you have extra sunscreen, layers and food in case you get stuck for longer than anticipated.
6. Keep hydrated. Ration the water if you feel the need but stay hydrated while you wait it out.
7. Leave a float plan. There are companies out there that specialize in float plans. You can pay for this service and if you don’t return, they know where to look for you. At the very least, tell someone who won’t be joining you the plans for the day. If you don’t call and check in, they can at least give the authorities the basics of where you are to make searching easier.
8. Understand towing basics. Have a marine rope on your boat in case someone can help but they don’t have one. The rope should be strong and not frayed or damaged and long enough to comfortably attach both boats together with some give in the middle. Each boat should have a knife onboard so the rope can be severed by either party in the case of an emergency. If you are not comfortable with surrounding conditions, don’t try and tow the boat. The person with the working boat can go and get the professionals.
9. Be prepared to muscle it out. We keep two telescoping paddles on our boat. They are easy to store because they folds down into a convenient package. I don’t think it would be fun to paddle our boat back to shore but we are prepared if need be. As a word of caution, these aren’t built for large-displacement boats but will work with the average runabout.
There you have it. If you become stuck, things will work out if you are prepared.
Article written by Katie Burke
Katie Burke is the Editor of Houseboat Magazine and the Assistant Editor of Pontoon & Deckboat Magazine