Keeping it Smart
June 1, 2023
Non-boat owner friends often comment just after boarding our boat in San Diego about the traffic on our VHF marine radio offering up the latest weather information. More than one frequently remark about what a beautiful day it is – so what's up with the weather concern? Capt Debbie and I are quick to remind them that while the sun may be shinning now and the breeze is gentle, the Southern California coastal weather can change rapidly. And we take advantage of the moment to educate our guests that should they observe a somewhat sudden build up of clouds or a quick drop in temperature that otherwise seemingly goes unnoticed by others to share their observation so we can start making some decisions about continuing with our sail, or heading back to the slip. And anyone that boats on the high desert lakes of Nevada and Arizona can attest to the very often, sudden and violent storms that the summer monsoon season brings.
We go over a multitude of topics during our pre-departure brief every time we're getting ready for a day, weekend or longer sail. Whether it's just the two of us, or we have guests, it's always the same discussion, before we leave the slip or haul up anchor. Of the many items we talk about, weather is most likely the most important. Should we lose power from our auxiliary engine, it's certainly not a big deal – after all – it is a sailboat. Navigation or running lights not energizing? Again not much of an issue as we have emergency lights that will get us by. Steering? Emergency rudder. Spring a leak? Break out the damage control kit. Communications failure? Two extra hand held radios as well as cell phones once we're able to connect with a tower. But weather . . . we have absolutely no control over the weather. But we can access a variety of different sources for what are most often fairly accurate forecasts, and adjust our plan, schedule and route to ensure our safe passage.
But just having the weather forecast, or building our own forecast based on the information we receive from a number of different sources is just part of the totalequation! How are we going to use that forecast to keep us safe? And, I should add that there are two other equally, perhapseven more important factors to consider. First, the operational range, orcapability and endurance abilities of our boat, and second, the competency of the crew to safely and efficiently resolve any issues that might arise during our transit. And one other issue bounces around the periphery, and that's developing a Plan B – alternatives; the primary being a safe harbor should the need arise during the trip to use it. Day sail, overnight trip to Catalina or cruise to Cabo, we always have a Plan B based on the weather!
Many prudent skippers and boat crews have developed and employed similar plans for centuries. The notion of planning to deal with "what if" scenarios are nothing all that new for people leaving sight of land. The best program that I've been exposed to came several years ago when the Coast Guard developed TCT. It's an acronym for Team Coordination Training; a concept that employed several conversationalbased evaluative tools for the crew to quickly complete before anyone leaves the dock. Borrowed from the aviation industry in hopes of reducing injury and property damage, the concept employs a variety of questions and checks to evaluate the readiness and capabilities of both boat and crew during every phase of their time on the water. And most importantly, their ability to recognize, evaluate and safely adapt to a changing environment, should it occur, while underway. The initial concept has now evolved into risk management and varies widely based on the needs of those employing it. But it is now commonly employed among all commercial and many recreational boaters – all using it to help ensure a safe transit.
Whether you're planning a morning, afternoon, overnight fishing trip, a family waterskiing day or a cruise to Hawaii, the basics should never change. Is the boat able to handle whatever we may encounter? Do we have the equipment, gear and sustenance that may be needed to endure? Is the crew capable and able to deal with any potential or likely issues that may arise? What's our Plan B in the event we need to completely change plans? When we start evaluating these seemingly simple questions a couple of things quickly become self evident; I need to make a checklist, and take a class! Oh! And let's take a look at those life jackets!
Always, always, always check the weather before leaving the dock and have that pre-departure talk with your guests, no matter your plans for the morning, afternoon or evening. Go over all the what-ifs you may encounter and solutions should they be needed. How to do what, where the emergency gear is and most importantly, what to expect from the weather.