Quick Thinking Saves Two
Better Boater Education Needed

by Wayne Spivak

Stranded boaters use mirror as SOS
New York - Two sailors stranded in Jamaica Bay used a mirror and an orange flag yesterday to signal an NYPD helicopter that happened to be overhead on a training exercise. Daily News, May 17, 2005 reported by Kerry Burke and Robert F. Moore.

Boating at this time of the year in the waters around New York is a delight. And what makes it so delightful is the fact that there are very few boats on the water. Some of the reason for the lack of boaters on the water is the temperatures. The water temp is in the 50's and air is still cold, with the nighttime temperatures running in the upper 50's.

The boating experience will change dramatically in a few short weeks when hundreds of thousands of boaters converge on the area's waterways to enjoy this great sport.

Our "hapless sailors" left their marina without a VHF radio, and their cell phone batteries dead. They also forgot to check the gas level, which allowed them to run out of gas. This is the event that got them into their predicament!

When the engine died, due to lack of gas, our fearless crew attempted to signal for help. They fired the three flares they had on board. Unfortunately, they fired at the water, and not into the sky. The result was that no one saw the flares. It also seems that they fired all three (the legal minimum) in succession, not learning from their previous misfires and mistakes.

Now flare-less, one of the crew members left the vessel to swim to shore. According to Lt. Kenneth Solosky of the NYPD aviation unit, he was a mile from land when he was found and "…there was no way (he was) going to survive that swim."

Luckily, one or both of the remaining crew figured out how to use their emergency mirror and flag, which probably saved their companion's life.

So, where did our "hapless sailors" go wrong? Since National Safe Boating Week was May 21 - 27th, we in the Coast Guard hope that the boating public learns from the mistakes made by our trio.

The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary strongly advise all mariners to carry a VHF radio (which, although highly recommended, is not a legal requirement). Cell phones are NOT the communication device of choice. Cell phone coverage on the water is spotty at best, and if you put out a call for help, only one other party can hear you. With a VHF radio, everyone who listening to Channel 16 (the emergency channel) and is in range will hear your call for help. Moreover the Coast Guard can use radio direction finding equipment (RDF) to locate you, even if you don't know where you are.

Before leaving your dock, you should always do a check of all essential boat systems, including your fuel levels. There is nothing both more embarrassing and easy to check as your fuel level. Other items to check are your emergency equipment, including flares, mirrors, and fire extinguishers to name a few.

A boating course would have taught you the proper way to use your pyrotechnics (flares). When firing a flare gun or lighting a hand flare, one should take great caution. A flare improperly used can cause a fire on your boat, injury to you or another person, and as happened with our crew, be completely ineffective.

NEVER EVER leave your vessel unless the boat itself is about to explode or is on fire. It is larger than you are, and it is much easier to find a vessel in the great big ocean, the bay or the lake than one small little person. You are much safer sitting in or even on top of a capsized boat where you can stay drier, then floating or swimming in the water.

All persons should wear life jackets, also known as PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices). Even if PFDs are not worn from the start, as we recommend, all persons on board a disabled vessel should don a PFD as soon as circumstances take a turn for the worse.

The Coast Guard's You're In Command campaign urges all boaters to take a boating course, get a free Vessel Safety Check, don't drink and boat, and lastly and certainly not least - Boat Smart from the Start, and always wear your PFD. Remember you're in command - so boat responsibly!

Wayne Spivak writes for the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary National Press Corps.

For more information on boating safety, Vessel Safety Checks, or the Coast Guard Auxiliary, contact www.cgaux.org or the toll free number 1-877-875-6296.