A glassy expanse in front of you, a companion alongside you, and the weekend ahead of you – it’s what boating is all about. While you could justthrottle out of the marina for points unknown, the fact is that you’ll have more time for everything (even if that means just doing nothing) and be safer if you plan your weekend boating escape. Best of all, having a plan will actually allow you more time for spontaneity.
Start by evaluating which destinations are realistically within your cruising range. Purchase a cruising guide for your area and reference it with your fuel usage and the average estimated travel speeds for the waterways in your area. For example, the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale is loaded with no-wake zones and drawbridges. That means slower traveling.
Once you have a destination, confirm that food, fuel and dockage are available. In many areas transient slips are limited and reservations are a must. (Good cruising guides usually provide this information, but it’s worth a few phone calls to confirm that the fuel dock and the marina are still in business.)
If most of your boating is just near-shore play, you might want to brush up on your navigation by taking a refresher class. Have your vessel’s mechanics and electronics inspected to guarantee that your boat will make the trip. More than 50 percent of the calls to the Coast Guard for assistance are from boaters in trouble as a result of the mechanical failure. And knowingly operating a pleasure craft that is unseaworthy is a criminal offence.
This is also the time to inspect your first-aid kit, PFDs ropes, ground tackle, waste holding tank (if so equipped), and fresh water supply. Run through all you backup provisions (emergency food and water) and spare mechanicals (engine oil, coolant). And don’t forget to have an extra engine key made if you haven’t done so already. Make sure that you have appropriate navigational charts. (If you use GPS and electronic charts you should still use paper charts as backup).
While this is happening you can work on your float plan. Similar to a pilot’s flight plan, a float plan is a simple form that lists all the information about you and your vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a click-and-print plan at www.floorplancentral.org.
The plan asks for basic information, such as:
- vessel name and type
- propulsion and electronics
- safety and survival equipment
- crew and guests data
- vessel’s itinerary.
You should send the completed plan to anyone who is expecting your vessel at any stop on the itinerary, as well as any responsible family member not traveling with you.
You should start checking the marine forecast 10 days in advance and be willing to abort if the weather is questionable.
Last, run through your checklist:
- What is the weather forecast?
- Any local hazards or boating restrictions?
- Do you have maps and charts?
- Is all safety equipment aboard and in good order?
- Ample reserves of fuel for the trip or will you need to refuel?
- Is your VHF radio working properly?
- First aid kit, basic tools and spare parts?