I have written many articles in the past regarding safe boating operations and what kinds of safety equipment and other emergency items you should have on board before leaving the dock for a day of fishing or pleasure boating. There is one very important item that I need to drive home to each and every boater, regardless of whether or not the skipper is operating a sailboat, fishing vessel, pleasure boat or personal watercraft and regardless of whether you are a private or commercial operator. The difference between this small item and the other equipment that has been written about and recommended in the past is that this item remains ashore and not on the vessel, and yet can very well spell the difference between a happy ending or a tragedy on the water. It is called a "float plan."
A float plan is nothing more than a piece of paper with certain information you are leaving behind with a reliable person who can be depended upon to notify the Coast Guard or other rescue organization, should you fail to return as scheduled. It may interest you to know that more than half of the calls received at U.S. Coast Guard Station, Yankeetown are from worried callers reporting boaters who have not returned from a fishing or pleasure boat trip. When the caller is asked vital information that could hasten the rescue, such as where did the boaters plan to go, where did they depart, a description of the vessel or what equipment was on board, the caller is unable to provide that information.
Boaters can create their own float plan or print one from the Internet. I would suggest that you make several copies for future use. Two good Web sites are: http://www.uscg.mil/d9/grumil /plan.htmland http://www.uscg.mil/hq/ g-o/g-opr/float%20plan.htm. If you decide to delay your return, remember to notify the person with whom you left your float plan of the time you now expect to return.
Homosassa Flotilla 15-04 reminds boaters that the Boy Scouts of America have as their motto, "Be Prepared." That should be the motto of every boater as well. You may very well plan to be on the water for only a short time, but if your engine malfunctions, weather conditions deteriorate or you become lost, you could be out there for a very, very long time.
Please leave a float plan behind. It could save your life!
_ Editor's note: This is one of a series of guest columns that appear periodically. Today's column is written by Wilbur B. Scott, assistant public affairs officer for Flotilla 15-04 of Homosassa. Contact him at 628-0639 or e-mail: seacapt34448yahoo.com.