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Man Overboard! Are You Ready?
By Rich Johnson 

With many of our boating friends buzzing about the Island’s waterways, I ask myself “are they ready to deal with an emergency if one arises?” Experts in self-defense tell us don’t be the victim, make yourself aware and think ahead! Professional ball players do it all the time as they visualize hitting the big home run, catching a touchdown pass with no time left or beating the buzzer with a big shot. It’s the old adage, “what do I do if the ball is hit to me?”

If you haven’t thought about these things, then you’re not prepared on the waterways of our area. You should run down a list of scenarios that can occur, each time you prepare to launch for a day’s fun in the sun. Whether it’s a man overboard, towing situations, fire on deck, what-have-you…think ahead! Prepare your guests on safety procedures, where your fire extinguishers are, first aid kits, flares, personal flotation devices (PFD’s), radios and how to use them all before you leave the dock!

Man Overboard…is one cry nobody wants to hear. It’s the case scenario all captains and individual boat owners fear most. In just a few precious moments, someone could be lost forever! I called Jim Dunn of the US Coast Guard-Jones Beach Auxiliary and asked him if there were any set procedures to follow in this emergency. “There are a few things we should do,” Jim said. “First, notify the helm someone has gone over the side and then contact the Coast Guard. Notifying the Coast Guard that someone is in the water, whether you have visual contact or not, puts them on notice. You can always let them know when the person is back in the boat so they can stand down.

Upon realizing someone is in the water, immediately sound five (5) short blasts on the horn and throw a Datum. Five short blasts of the horn is the International signal for danger and tells other boaters in the area to be careful. A Datum is just an official word for a marker buoy of some sort, even if it’s just another PFD, cushion, or whatever you have that will float. The purpose is to mark where the individual went over, and just as importantly, the item thrown will drift in the same direction and at the same speed.

This gives you a marked location and a direction in which to look. If the worst happens, it also allows the Coast Guard to establish a drift pattern for further search and rescue operations. If there is more than one person on board, have someone keep an eye on the subject in the water…nothing else! Let those around the boat take care of the other procedural steps that need to be done. Visual contact must be kept on the person in the water at all times. This is perfect example why wearing brightly colored is a good idea.”

Jim adds, “If for whatever reason you lose visual contact and can’t find them within five (5) minutes, tell the Coast Guard (you already called right?) you lost contact and send help. This puts the Coast Guard on full alert and allows them to put things in gear. Don’t hesitate on this! Don’t spend 20 minutes looking for someone, if you don’t see them after five minutes get professional help! This now becomes a life and death situation and every second counts, particularly when water temperatures are cold. If you have a LORAN or GPS system on the boat, hit the save button so the exact location where the person went over is recorded, again a starting point for a search grid. Tell the Coast Guard your position in Latitude & Longitude, not LORAN TD’s.

When you turn to go after the individual in the water, turn INTO the direction the person fell over. In other words, if the person falls in over the port side, turn to port…over the starboard, turn to starboard! Turning in the opposite direction swings the stern and the engine into the direction the person went over, which could result in serious injury and death.

Next, upon finding the individual, throw your Type IV flotation device (also known as your “throwable”) to them. Each boat is required to have one of these to be on the waterways. If it is properly stowed, it should have a rope attached to it, but either way, get the individual in the water something to hang on to. The rope makes it easier to pull someone in and it helps to have a small swim platform mounted on the stern. If you don’t have one, a portable stowed as part of your emergency gear is a good idea.

If you’ve never thought about this possible situation, I hope I’ve opened your mind to the reality of such an event. No one wants to think bad things can happen on the water, but when it does, it’s in the blink of an eye so be ready! It takes common sense and good procedural steps to save a life…maybe even your own. Prepare yourself and your passengers on each and every trip! What will you do if the ball is hit to you?


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