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April 19, 2013

Safe boating: Practical tips learned the hard way

Spring is here and boating season has started. While May 18 to 25 is Safe Boating Week, every mariner always should be prepared for problems asea.

In the course of writing five books about accidents and survival at sea, the survivors shared things they would have done differently to avoid the accident as well as steps that helped them survive. One reasons they did so was to prevent accidents and help those who find themselves in trouble. Here are some of their tips:

Before your trip

Do not project past outcomes to a current situation.

In “Ten Hours Until Dawn,” my book about the Gloucester pilot boat the Can Do in the Blizzard of 1978, both the Coast Guard and the Can Do had done a rescue one year earlier in a remarkably similar situation. The oil tanker Chester Poling was sinking in a blizzard, and six out of seven men were saved by the Coast Guard and the Can Do in a daytime rescue. It’s easy to understand how when the Blizzard of ’78 struck and another oil tanker was in trouble, mariners sprang into action expecting similar conditions and similar results. But there was one big difference: the rescue in the Blizzard of ’78 was at night, which makes everything twice as difficult.

The lesson learned here? Pause before you make a decision when the weather is bad, and ask yourself what is different about this scenario than in the past.

Double check your gear. With all the gear we stow on the boat it’s easy to overlook the one item to pack that might mean the difference between life and death. While researching “Overboard!” I learned that Capt. Tom Tighe forgot to bring the boat’s drogue. Tom had sailed from Connecticut to Bermuda and back again 24 times. He encountered rough weather on some trips, but never had to use a drogue to slow the boat down when riding out a storm. For whatever reason he didn’t have this crucial piece of equipment when it was needed most.

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