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Tips for Safe Passage

How you can enjoy an epic journey safely.
Tips for Safe Passage

Since I left full-time sailing for a living many years ago, what I miss most is passage-making — the process of crossing vast expanses of open ocean. The excitement of the challenge and satisfaction of making landfall is extraordinary. Even just running out to the Atlantic canyons or down the West Coast into Mexico can offer an exciting adventure. And with the technology available today, combined with the proper boat, anyone can learn enough to start taking such epic journeys.

Here are just a few of the initial considerations you can explore to plan your first passage.

Fuel
Know your boat’s fuel consumption at varying speeds. Determine how far you can go on a full tank at optimum cruise, including a 10 percent cushion. Once you have that information, you can decide where you can go.

What if your destination is farther than your fuel capacity? Consider carrying additional fuel in jerry cans or even better, a portable, collapsible fuel bladder. Find an example at www.atlinc.com and www.rusinflex.com/boat.html.

Weather

Most anglers aren’t skilled meteorologists. If you plan a long-distance journey, the last thing you want is to run into horrific weather. Consider consulting a private meteorologist who specializes in trip routing. Such an expert can look at historic weather trends for the area you plan to transit and come up with a “best possible” time for you to undertake your journey. Type “meteorological ship routing” into your browser.

Communication
Standard VHF has a range limited to line-of-sight from land stations. Depending on the height of your boat’s antenna, you might reach up to 20 miles. On a long-distance passage, you will cross that border.

To communicate at greater distances, two options exist: high-frequency, single-sideband radio and satellite telephone. Installing a single sideband is an involved process. A handheld satellite telephone makes life much easier and offers a more ­economical option as well. Explore options at www.inmarsat.com.

EPIRB
If you have an emergency far offshore, you can’t disembark and take a bus home. You need to let someone know you have a problem and transmit your location. A prime tool for this purpose: the emergency position-indicating radio beacon.

Simply turn on an EPIRB, and it sends microburst messages to the Coast Guard with your name, boat description, location, DSC radio MMSI number and emergency-contact information. Don’t want to invest in an EPIRB right now? BoatU.S. offers an affordable ($40 per week plus shipping at press time) 406 MHz EPIRB rental program through its website, www.boatus.com/foundation/EPIRB.

MOB Equipment
On longer voyages especially, captains need a system to keep track of everyone aboard. Briartek’s Orcadsc (www.briartek.com), Raymarine’s LifeTag (www.raymarine.com) and Emerald Marine’s Alert 2 (www.alert2.com) are but three examples of wireless man-overboard monitoring systems that cost about $650 to $750. Crewmembers wear signaling devices that can communicate with a base station if they fall overboard.

Also, Autotether (www.autotether.com) makes an electronic kill switch that I use all the time when testing boats. It lets you roam about your entire vessel without wearing that short red cord. However, fall over the side, and the boat’s engines immediately stop.

Night Running/Speed

Every ocean features floating trash these days, and some of that debris can be quite debilitating. On my way to Midway Island from Hawaii (1,560 nautical miles across unpopulated Pacific Ocean) years ago, my vessel struck a piece of 4-inch-diameter hawser rope that tore a blade off the prop. For safety and fuel economy, drop back to slow-trolling speed at night, even if you aren’t in ­shipping lanes or high-traffic areas.

Manpower
Obviously, you don’t want to make passage alone. You need to sleep and someone must stand watch. Two lookouts can be even better, so one can keep the other awake in the dogwatch hours. Splitting the duty among three crewmembers allows two-on-four-off or three-on-six-off schedules.

Don’t wait until you’re on your journey to teach crew how to steer a compass course.

Papers
You need to carry all your ship’s papers along with personal papers for each passenger if you plan to leave the country.

When you arrive at your foreign destination, you must fly a yellow flag — the international code flag for the letter Q, for quarantine. Leave it flying until after you clear customs and www.immigration. Make sure you understand what you need to do prior to leaving the country as well.

Additionally, each country has its own rules about what you can and cannot bring. For example, carrying guns aboard your boat in Mexico will land you in jail and cost you your boat.

You might need fishing permits in addition to your ship clearances. Each country should have its own entry requirements available on official government websites. In the case of Mexico, visit www.mexperience.com.

Finally, don’t undertake an offshore journey without a well-equipped life raft large enough to handle the number of people aboard your boat. The only way you can feel the exhilaration of pitting yourself against nature and long expanses of ocean is to plan carefully, equip yourself properly and do it! You’ll feel an amazing sense of accomplishment as well as have memories for the rest of your life.

* * * * *

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.

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