Sunday, 2 July 2017

Safety on the Sea

If you go out on the sea, do so with proper precautions. My experience is that the more familiar you are with the sea, the safer you become. It’s cold out there. 

I clean off the leg of my boat in the summer because, even with a weighted tarp to keep sun off the leg, on non-antifouled surfaces, algae grows an inch per week, and must be scrubbed off regularly, along with scraping barnacles growing on propeller blades; they cause cavitation and your boat may fail to get up on its plane. Barnacles on the hull do the same thing. So, get the expensive, two-year anti fouling paint to prevent this. It is far better than the average paint. And get your boat power washed, paint touched up and zinced every summer.

I was reminded the other day how cold the ocean is. Leaning off the transom, face first on the water, arms to my armpits scrubbing, in only five minutes, I had to stop and warm up. The sea is that cold. Falling in has to be seen as your death in less than an hour, water being 6- to 10-degrees C, even in summer. Water starts to freeze at 4 degrees, that’s how cold the ocean is.

Here are some things you should consider for your boat:

1.     A mounted, non-electric compass on the dash in front of the captain’s seat. Get in the habit of looking at it, and if the engine fails, you know which direction you are headed, and which way is back to port, something you will not know in fog. Then, because all power devices on the boat give off magnetic fields and affect a compass mounted near them – like your GPS, panel with its half dozen dials, trim, bilge pump, and the side panel that combines each switch – realize that you need to completely power down to be assured your compass is reading correctly.

2.     A handheld compass in your back pack. Leave the pack always ready, filled with hand flares, in your house, so all you have to do is pick it up each time out. And do remember that the needle always points north. Again, make sure it is used far enough from your panel, etc., for it to read correctly. If you don’t believe this, hold it close to your panel, and watch the needle deflect when the magnetic fields are entered.

Chit chatting at the gym this past week, it was related to me that a captain my buddy had been with, had an unreliable GPS/sounder that packed it in in the fog in the Broken Islands. Fortunately, my buddy had a handheld compass, and had taken a bearing when leaving harbour. He hauled it out to indicate which direction to putt back to port, threading carefully through the hundred islands in Barkley Sound.

Unfortunately, the captain did not agree, and pointed in the opposite, foggy direction, to open ocean. The problem was Mr. Captain was pointing to the bottom of the arrow as north, and an argument ensued for an hour and a half. Then, finally, encountering another boat, that captain pointed north in the same direction that the ‘up’ end of the handheld compass pointed, settling the argument. They ended up back in harbour safely, but it could have turned out deadly, motoring until the fuel ran out, and then the swell simply rolling the boat over, spilling occupants into the sea.

3.     A kill switch. This eliminates, while docked, electrical leakages that kill batteries and thus automatic bilge pumps, leaving your power source low or zeroed out, and bilge water under an inboard engine. With an inboard engine, the starter is often the lowest thing in the bilge, and thus your boat could fail to start, should it be shut down for any reason when you are off the dock.

4.     A GPS/sounder unit with the more expensive chip that does Puget Sound, up east side and west side Van Isle, and thence to Alaska. Recently my snazzy unit has shown itself to be a little erratic about starting, so I will be buying a new one, and digging out my old handheld.

I told my friend my scary story about handhelds. Before GPSs had a colour screen with land maps laid out on them I got a, ‘high tech’ monochrome one, and roared off to Tofino, meaning, I laid down a track from Oak Bay through Race Rocks, Port Renfrew, Nititnat Bar, Cape Beale to Bamfield, then to Ucluelet and thence to Tofino. I stopped in Bamfield for a night and did so in both Ucluelet and Tofino.

On the way back, I had the scary time. Following my trail, I motored, full speed, hand on the throttle – for safety – through the fog from Ucluelet, where I refueled, to Port Renfrew, and so on. It was a warm day, and I, a bit sleepy, was not expecting any problem, because I was following a trail for almost 100 nautical miles, when out of the fog a cliff appeared and I was heading straight for death.

I swung the wheel hard to starboard, and roared into the fog, cliff disappearing like a bad dream that hadn’t been real. I made myself pull back on the throttle and figure out what had happened. I had 70 miles to go and the same could happen again, with me not being so lucky. 

My handheld showed I was faithfully following the trail. I had zoomed it out, so it would show about 30 miles and thus I could follow it. Well, when I zoomed in, what the trail showed was that I had, over 20 miles, veered off to port by a degree or two, and thus was actually a half mile closer to the cliffs than I thought. What a scare.

5.     Never leave docks without full fuel tanks. I have related in a past article how, when events don’t turn out the way you plan, you can run out of fuel, leaving you dead in the water – the time I ended up in the States in the fog, for example. Here is another story: on the same trip to Tofino, I added five Gerry cans of five gallons of gas each. I had boat tanks full at 40 gallons, and with an extra 25 gallons a safe margin into Bamfield.

I had done the fuel calculation based on a certain planing speed, and consumption per hour. The 25 gallons added plus 50% extra fuel than I thought I would need. But on the trip, as I had put the 25 gallons in the bow compartment, the boat seemed to be plowing a bit, so I picked up speed 1.5 knots for a higher plane, and carried on.

Fuel consumption seemed very high, so somewhere off the Nitinat, in the fog, I put the extra fuel in. Note that I had thought to buy a huge funnel, so as not to lose fuel in a tossing sea, with its other end fitting comfortably into my fuel tank opener. Loaded once more, I got on the plane easier with the weight of the fuel no longer in the bow. I made Cape Beale on less than a quarter of one tank, and motored into Bamfield on fumes.

The problem was that by picking up speed, coupled with the extra weight, the boat had burned 50% more fuel than I had calculated for the entire trip. Yet another scare.

6.     A radio mounted in the boat, and know how to use it. Keep it on the weather channel so you know what is coming and know the local channel to call for help. Also, buy a waterproof handheld radio and, most importantly, have it on yourself at all times on the boat, in case you get dumped in. And you have the waterproof handheld flare in your pocket as well. Note that these are back-up for those on the boat, and buy new ones every few years, so you know they will light.

7.     A toggle-filled Mustang lifejacket, one that lies in strips down your chest so it is less bulky than other types of lifejackets – like the five I have on the boat that I never use. Wear it at all times you are on the boat. If you end up in the water, at least you won’t have to swim while making your radio call. You might also consider getting an auto-fill lifejacket so that if you are knocked unconscious, the life jacket inflates anyway.

8.     Don’t drink alcohol on the water. It only takes one moment’s inattention, for the boat to be in danger of being rolled over. The old adage is: the first wave turns you sideways. The second wave rolls you over. This is your life after all, and every time on the water, a captain is responsible for everyone’s safety.

If you are with a captain who is drinking, sit yourself in the seat beside him/her. That way, if he/she misses a wave, you can shove the person out of the way, and take over the helm.

9.     A Spot Gen3 is a handheld, waterproof electric device that you can use to send an SOS and some prearranged messages to prearranged email recipients. It is a GSP unit that locks onto a satellite and sends your coordinates. Keep it on your body, carabiner clipped to outer clothing and unit powered up. Hit SOS if you end up in the water. Also hit the Need Some Help button for backup, it going to a prearranged recipient, as well, for them to immediately phone the Coast Guard.

10.  Radar. This saves your bacon in fog, and will read tankers you may encounter at full speed without warning. Do mount the radar unit as indicated in packaging, as it is radioactive and harmful to exposed humans.

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