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Plan ahead for when pleasant outing turns nasty

Nice as Florida seems in the wintertime, weather conditions can suddenly put boaters in real dangerous situations.

DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times

Nice as Florida seems in the wintertime, weather conditions can suddenly put boaters in real dangerous situations.

If your plane crashes in the jungle, your car breaks down in the mountains or your boat starts taking on water at sea, then I'm the guy for you. It's not that I am particularly lucky. In fact, my friends will tell you that one sure way to guarantee bad weather is to invite me along on your next adventure. And it's not that I am overly resourceful, even though I'm often heard preaching to the boys in my Cub Scout pack … improvise, adapt, overcome. No. The reason why I'm the guy you need when disaster strikes is that I always have a plan.

Cold kills

People think Florida is a sub-tropical paradise where the sun shines 365 days a year. While our weather may be great most of the time, we still get our share of cold fronts each year, some of which prove deadly for the unprepared.

Nobody likes to think of their boat going down in a storm, but the truth is it happens more often than people think.

Every winter, people die in the Gulf of Mexico. During the summer, our local water is warm and flat as a pancake. But come November, the water temperature drops as the wind and waves pick up.

Smart boaters wear life jackets. But that term is a misnomer. Personal flotation devices will keep you afloat, but they will not keep you alive.

Hypothermia, the reduction of the body's temperature below the point of normal functioning, can kill in a matter of hours. Everybody reacts differently to cold water. Body size, level of physical fitness and percentage of body fat are factors in how quickly your body temperature drops. But the best advice is to not to get into a survival situation in the first place.

Be prepared

Before you head offshore, down a river or into the woods, check the weather. If conditions look sketchy, stay home. There is always tomorrow.

If you do go ahead with your adventure, leave a float plan (or the terrestrial equivalent) with trusted friends or relatives. Let them know where you are going, who you are going with and what time you expect to return.

Plan for the worst and hope for the best. It is better to have too much gear than too little.

Pack warm clothing, even if it is sunny and warm when you leave. Synthetic fibers are better than cotton, a.k.a. "death cloth," which can actually draw heat out of the body when wet.

A knit hat will trap warmth in your head, where 75 percent of body heat is lost. If nothing else, try to keep your vital organs, such as the heart and lungs, warm.

Pack extra food and water just in case your day trip turns into an overnighter. And every emergency kit should include kindling, waterproof matches and some "napalm in a tube" that will burn even wet wood.

Use your head

Most survival situations last less than 72 hours. While equipment is important, the most important tool at your disposal in any emergency situation is the human mind. If you keep your cool, chances are you will make it out alive.

But the best advice is not to get in a survival situation in the first place. If you do, stop, evaluate your situation and plan a course of action. If you consider what could go wrong ahead of time, chances are you will make the right decision when there is less time to think.

Terry Tomalin's adventuring checklist

Map, chart and compass: Don't leave without them.

Food: High-energy bars that can be eaten in any emergency situation.

Water: Plan on at least a gallon per person per day.

Fire: Bring waterproof matches and some type of fire starter.

Clothing: Wear thin, synthetic material next to the skin. Add a thick, insulating layer, followed by a shell to repel wind and rain.

Rescue aids: On water, pack flares. A signal mirror and whistle are good in any situation. Flashlights and strobes also work well as signaling devices. You can buy a personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) for less than $400. Use it once and you will agree it was the best investment you ever made.

S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L.

S. Size up the situation. How much trouble are you really in?

U. Undo haste makes waste. Calm down. Take a second to think. People often make poor decisions under duress and abandon essential equipment, i.e. jumping ship without a survival kit.

R. Remember where you are. Know your surroundings. If you are a passenger, don't be afraid to ask questions.

V. Vanquish fear and panic. What one person might consider a survival situation, another might consider sport.

I. Improvise. Make the wrong tool do the right job.

V. Value living.

Never say die.

A. Act like the locals. If the monkeys are eating the fruit, it can't be that bad. Fish heads don't taste that bad after a couple of days without food.

L. Learn the basic skills. Do you know how to use that EPIRB and new life raft?

Plan ahead for when pleasant outing turns nasty 11/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 25, 2010 10:00pm]
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