Holiday boating provides the best of times on the water, especially for holidays such as the Fourth of July. You invite friends and family aboard, rendezvous with other boaters, light the barbecue, and generally get ready for some memorable times afloat. Will your plans run smoothly and safely or hit a snag? That often depends on common sense, preparation, and cooperation from your whole crew.
Sea Tow captains, more than 600 of them spread around the country, have helped out plenty of folks who ran into problems and offer their hard-won advice through the Sea Tow Foundation, a non-profit arm of the company that educates boaters and provides safety services. In this article, we’ve tapped into some of their key themes for safe, event-free boating to prepare you for the upcoming holiday weekend.
For starters, what do they say about the raft-up destination many have on holidays? Here are a few pointers that, if followed, will set the stage for a successful raft-up:
First, choose your raft-up spot with care. It may seem obvious, but the area should be sheltered and clear of traffic. The first boat in the raft-up is most important because it will anchor by the bow and stern and it will set the position for the whole group.
Second, when it’s your turn to join the raft-up, have your fenders and lines ready. Get everyone’s attention aboard your boat and make sure they keep their arms and legs inside the boat at all times. Approach slowly, and tie up to one of the end boats using bow and stern lines.
Finally, stagger the boats. Position them so each one is slightly ahead of or behind the boat next to it. This will keep the rigging from touching if the boats are rocked by a wake.
Those are the first of many more tips offered in Sea Tow’s longer story on this topic.
Speaking of safety, who just might be the toughest, most effective safety officers you can recruit for your boat? We’ll give you a hint: we’re not talking old salts. Put the kids in charge by giving them this “First Mate Checklist” and tell them the boat can’t leave the dock until they’ve signed off on every item on the list.
Read the list and you’ll see that it goes way beyond wearing lifejackets and, in fact, teaches young crew about vital safety gear, navigation, and much more. And if the bilge needs pumping, you’ll have the perfect chance to put some young muscles to work.
Included on the checklist is the chance to test the VHF radio by making a transmission to Sea Tow’s automated radio check service, currently available in more than 155 locations around the country. To find the Sea Tow Automated Radio Check channel in your boating area, visit Sea Tow.
While showing your crew how to do that, explain how to operate a VHF to call for help, which might be critical one day. This is also a good time to explain how a phone is different from a VHF and to absorb another tip from Sea Tow captains, one that adults should learn just as clearly as children: Smartphones may be everywhere, but they’re not always the best device for communications on a boat—and that’s not only because they don’t like to get wet.
According to a recent Sea Tow blog, Capt. Sammy Royal, owner of Sea Tow Horseshoe Beach (Fla.) on a rural stretch of the Gulf Coast on Florida’s Panhandle, says boaters can’t rely on their smartphones always “having bars”. “There are small fishing villages along the coast that are nine or ten miles apart with nothing in between,” he reports − making it essential to have a VHF on board.
Perhaps more important wherever you are, if you ever find you need assistance, more than one listener can hear and respond to your call. “With a VHF, you can communicate with more people, more quickly. Whether it’s Sea Tow, the Coast Guard, or a nearby boater, everybody’s going to hear what you’ve got to say,” says Capt. Ed Schrader, owner of Sea Tow Hampton Roads (Va.), which serves the busy waters of Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Bay. He adds: “The USCG’s Rescue 21 System also has VHF direction-finding capabilities and can obtain a relatively good location as soon as you click your mic and place that distress call.” We found yet more good advice from Sea Tow in its blog, such as this list of checks for your engine area to be conducted at the outset of every boating season, whether your boat needs to come out of the water or not. Here’s a sample:
- Check the bilge and remove both debris and water. Then check the bilge pump to make sure it is working, especially the automatic float switch. Make sure the strainer is clear of debris and hoses are in good shape.
- Remove the battery and clean the terminals. Check battery water levels, charge the battery, spray terminals with corrosion inhibitor, and reinstall the battery. If it’s applicable, change the oil and fuel filters on the engine(s) and generator. Refill with fresh oil and fuel. Change or top off lower unit or outdrive gear oil.
- Check spark plugs, fuel pump, electrical system, fuel lines, hoses, clamps, and engine drive belts for signs of wear and damage. Repair/replace as needed.
If your engine runs smoothly and you keep the water out of your boat, your holiday weekend will automatically have a better chance of being a happy, stress-free event, especially for you, the skipper. And if you’ve given due focus to safety concerns, you’ll be a giant step closer to a safe and uneventful season afloat.
Editor's Note: Promotional consideration for this article was paid by Sea Tow.