A pi­lot of­fers time-tested ad­vice that ben­e­fits boaters.

Boating - - FRONT PAGE -

Sonny Hen­drix is a cap­tain, but not the kind who pi­lots a boat. He pi­lots com­mer­cial air­craft. I found my­self on the same boat with Hen­drix dur­ing a Flor­ida fish­ing trip aboard a Pur­suit DC 325.

The con­ver­sa­tion even­tu­ally grav­i­tated to air­craft emer­gen­cies and how pi­lots re­spond to them. In an emer­gency, a pi­lot is trained to im­me­di­ately ad­dress three things: 1) avi­ate, 2) nav­i­gate and 3) com­mu­ni­cate, in that or­der, Hen­drix said.

Avi­ate means to keep the plane fly­ing. Nav­i­gate means head for the near­est air­port. Only af­ter quickly ad­dress­ing these two facets should the pi­lot com­mu­ni­cate with air traf­fic con­trol.

Boat cap­tains might ap­ply the same prin­ci­ples to nau­ti­cal emer­gen­cies, with some marine-re­lated adap­ta­tions.


This is the boat­ing equiv­a­lent of avi­ate. It’s a top pri­or­ity in a boat­ing emer­gency, whether stem­ming a leak, bail­ing out a swamped bilge, ex­tin­guish­ing a fire or get­ting the an­chor down to keep the boat from drift­ing into the surf. I was re­minded of this re­cently while re­turn­ing from a fish­ing trip. A fel­low boater ex­cit­edly flagged me down. He had lost power and was in dan­ger of drift­ing into the jetty. He asked for a tow, but I had other ideas. I en­cour­aged him to get the an­chor down im­me­di­ately.

He was no longer in dan­ger of dash­ing his boat on the rocks. I stood by and of­fered ad­vice while he at­tempted to restart his en­gine. It turned out to be a sim­ple case of a de­tached safety-stop lan­yard. He was soon on his way.


This is the equiv­a­lent of Hen­drix’s sec­ond step — nav­i­gate.

For some boaters, how­ever, hav­ing been suc­cess­ful in step 1 — stay­ing afloat — might sug­gest that they can put off step 2, But it can be a mis­take.

This was dis­played vividly on a re­cent trip while amid a group of boats fish­ing the back­side of Santa Catalina Is­land. The au­to­matic bilge pump of a nearby 23-foot twin-out­board cen­ter con­sole seemed to be cy­cling on with dis­turb­ing fre­quency. It was keep­ing the boat afloat, but at a cost.

Af­ter three hours, it drained one of the start­ing bat­ter­ies. Now the cap­tain was un­able to start one en­gine, and the bilge pump no longer worked. He fi­nally made the de­ci­sion to limp home on a sin­gle en­gine as crew mem­bers man­u­ally bailed wa­ter from the bilge.


Com­mu­ni­cat­ing is im­por­tant, but don’t let it in­ter­fere with steps 1 or 2. For ex­am­ple, on an air­plane, if the en­gines die, the pi­lot doesn’t rush to the ra­dio. In­stead he rushes to restart the en­gines.

Sim­i­larly, if a fire breaks out on your boat, don’t rush to the VHF mic. In­stead rush for a fire ex­tin­guisher. Once you have done ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to re­solve the is­sue, then grab the VHF mic and com­mu­ni­cate with au­thor­i­ties. If you and your crew are in mor­tal dan­ger or have in­jured crew mem­bers, is­sue a May­day call.

For a guide to is­su­ing a May­day dis­tress call, see boat­ing­mag.com/how-tomake-may­day-call. You can also is­sue an au­to­mated May­day dis­tress call us­ing the DSC dis­tress but­ton on your VHF ra­dio. To learn more, visit boat­ing­mag.com/us­ing-dsc-tosend-an-elec­tronic-may­day.

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