Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - BY BOB AR­RING­TON

Safety drills: How to pre­pare for the worst.

When most boaters free their lines and head for open wa­ter, they do so in a mild state of de­nial, an in­no­cent but dan­ger­ous un­will­ing­ness to ad­mit some­thing could go wrong. They are un­der­stand­ably more fo­cused on the day’s ad­ven­ture.

You may think you’re head­ing out as a safe boater. Af­ter all, you carry the re­quired emer­gency equip­ment. But hav­ing it and be­ing pre­pared to use it are two very dif­fer­ent things. Peo­ple who work in a ca­pac­ity where the un­ex­pected can oc­cur—from first-grade teach­ers to flight at­ten­dants—con­duct safety drills and re­hearse emer­gency pro­ce­dures. And they prac­tice them reg­u­larly, so the re­sponse be­hav­ior be­comes sec­ond na­ture. That’s a rou­tine boat own­ers should em­u­late. Aboard your boat, you are not just the host re­spon­si­ble to show friends a fun day on the wa­ter; you are also the emer­gency per­son­nel.

Most boaters are re­luc­tant to re­hearse emer­gency drills; they feel a lit­tle silly, or they don’t want to ruin the ex­cite­ment of the day with a dose of re­al­ity. But if you are not pre­pared and will­ing to prac­tice safety drills, you could en­dan­ger the wel­fare of guests and crew. And the truth is, the more you prac­tice, the less awk­ward these drills be­come.

We per­form rou­tine ac­tiv­i­ties with very lit­tle con­scious thought; that’s be­cause over time these rou­tines be­come per­ma­nently “wired” into our brains. Rit­u­als such as brush­ing our teeth be­come sec­ond na­ture. But if there’s a wrench thrown into the works—wa­ter does not come out of the faucet when we go to brush, for ex­am­ple—the rea­son­ing part of your brain would go into ac­tion to fig­ure out why. In an emer­gency that rea­son­ing goes out the win­dow. When there’s an emer­gency aboard your boat, wouldn’t it be nice to rely on re­sponse be­hav­ior that was well wired into your brain? Drills cre­ate that.

Safety on board is a state of mind, a will­ing­ness to ask “what if ” and an un­will­ing­ness to be­come an­other statis­tic. Con­duct­ing a safety drill is the only way you will know if your emer­gency equip­ment is in the right place, if it can be ac­cessed quickly, or, in some cases, if it’s still in work­ing con­di­tion. Safety drills will al­low you to de­ter­mine the crit­i­cal roles for each friend or fam­ily mem­ber. There is no ques­tion it is eas­ier to get into the right state of mind when the dan­ger is real. Dur­ing a peace­ful night at an­chor re­cently, my wife woke to the sounds of the boat an­chored next to us be­ing en­gulfed in flames.

Suf­fice it to say while un­der way the next day, it didn’t seem so silly for us to re­hearse pro­ce­dures for fire­fight­ing and aban­don­ship. This col­umn is not a tu­to­rial in safety drills, it’s a call to ac­tion, a plea to en­cour­age you to take safety drills se­ri­ously.

Safety drills will vary de­pend­ing on the boat; drills per­formed on a 30-foot cen­ter con­sole will be dif­fer­ent from those re­hearsed on a 90-foot motoryacht. How­ever, all boats share the same risks of fire, flood­ing, first aid, and per­son over­board. It’s up to the boat’s owner to plan for a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions by de­ter­min­ing what re­sources will be needed to ad­dress each prob­lem. For in­stance, ask your crew to ac­tu­ally find the life jack­ets and put them on, and take the fire ex­tin­guisher out of the holder and go to the gal­ley with it. Time your­self and oth­ers on the boat to see how long each pro­ce­dure takes. If you have chil­dren on board, it’s easy to make a game of all of this.

If you boat reg­u­larly with the same peo­ple, in­clude them in the drills. If you fre­quently have dif­fer­ent guests aboard, script a non-alarm­ing but thor­ough brief­ing of what they should do in an emer­gency, and get over be­ing em­bar­rassed to de­liver it. Be will­ing to prac­tice “what if,” be­cause only through prac­tice are you truly pre­pared to be a safe boater.

For the Coast Guard—and you—drills are cru­cial.

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