Safety drills to safeguard against disasters
No matter how much we mentally prepare ourselves to handle dangerous on-the-water situations, nothing takes the place of actually practicing how to respond in an emergency. To do this, we need to get in the habit of staging regular safety drills on our vessels.
Make a list of what could go wrong while underway, and establish onboard drills to practice the best step-by-step response to each potential emergency.
For example, after I welcome guests aboard my boat and give my usual safety spiel, I have them locate and put on their life jackets. People need to experience finding and putting on a life jacket so the process won’t be strange if they have to do so in an emergency.
The same goes for man overboard drills. In a real emergency, the fear and adrenaline rush can make remembering how to get a person back on board difficult. Before you leave the dock, have passengers practice saying “man overboard,” pointing to the person in the water, throwing him or her a flotation device, and readying a ladder or the swim platform to lift the person back on deck. Prepare yourself by regularly practicing pushing the MOB button on the GPS and making sure passengers have done their part. Then imagine (or practice using a floating dummy or other prop) carefully maneuvering your boat to the person in the water, shutting off the engine and putting it in gear to immobilize the propeller.
You can also practice your response to the following emergencies:
- Loss of power or loss of rudder control
- VHF use in an emergency
- Sudden incoming water
- Passenger injury
- Rough weather and dangerous seas
- Abandoning ship
- Fire on board
Although practice may not make perfect, holding regular onboard safety drills makes it more likely that you will handle emergencies calmly and with authority.