Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

We had for a pretty strange exchange one Sunday with some power boaters. I was teaching a sailing class, and we were on our final leg of the sail. Those statistics about the most dangerous time on the water being 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon were running through my head when I saw the small power boat not under command and adrift.

Adrift in the Inlet

Their engine died, and there were three guys drifting along outside the inlet. One was on a cell phone.

I knew they were in serious trouble because they did NOT have the cowling off the engine. That would have been a sign of ingenuity; the semi-international sign of distress, and a sign that someone on board had some idea about outboards. Nope. Cell Phone.

They were swirling around on the incoming tide, looking pretty uncomfortable.

In my teacher voice, I said, “You should put your anchor down.”

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

Their Situation

They were in about 30 feet of water, and from there, would either drift across the 55-65 foot deep area, and I figured they probably did not have enough line to secure themselves. Or they would drift onto the rocks. Or they would drift onto the beach.

Any of those three scenarios would make it more difficult for the tow boat to get to them, and increase their anxiety. And I’m all about reducing anxiety on the water! 

They questioned me – “You think so? Uhhhhh….” not in a second-guessing me, or bravado, or full of themselves-type manner, but more in a complete befuddlement of what might happen next manner.

 I said, (You would have been very proud!) “Yes, put your anchor down NOW.” And they did.

We hung around until we could see Sea Tow coming for them. We agreed – well, I had on board a nurse and two pilots – a fairly bright group – we agreed they didn’t have enough sense between the three of them to make any logical decisions.

Luckily, their anchor grabbed. On our second pass around them, they looked a lot more relaxed.

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

Stop the Insanity

Out there, when something goes wrong, I’m always hearing that Susan Powter “Stop the Insanity” in my head. Stop the crazy, then address the plan – IF YOU HAVE A PLAN. Ugh. You’re a boater – you know exactly what I mean.

These guys were just lucky to have engine trouble at the mouth of the inlet, off to the side while the red snapper fishing maniacs streamed in. It was one of five open days, so the boat ramps were packed, and the waterway was churning. 

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

What Could Have Happened

I did understand that instead of letting the boat drift toward downtown, I had them anchoring at the mouth of the inlet, over toward the side. That way, they would not get swept onto the rocks or out to sea or be in the middle of the steady stream of traffic in the channel.

They could always change their mind, pick up their anchor, and drift somewhere else.

 The one surprising thing was NO ONE STOPPED to check on them – I guess everyone was getting those red snapper straight to the waiting grills! 

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

Second Guessing Your Natural Instincts

A funny thought occurred to me. Having them anchor out… maybe I kept the tow time a little bit longer so Sea Tow could make a little more money – or – I shortchanged SeaTow a bit of cash if the unlucky boaters had to pay him a bit more to pick them off the rocks?

Examining my immediate inclination and instinct later, I realized something.

When you make a decision on the water, it’s often made from a position of thousands of hours of combined experiences. You might make decisions instantly, and later take the time to realize all the factors and scenarios that you ran instantly. All that experience pays off.

However, when situations are finished, try not to second guess others. You don’t know all the factors that went into their decisions.

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

What’s Your Plan

Here’s what you can do. Have a plan. For every potential situation, have a plan, and spend some time mentally running through the steps.

Just like you did when you were learning how to drive, playing out those scenarios in your head; do it on the water, too.

Every time you think of it, run a “what if.” “What if that boat does not slow down, what if that boat does not turn, what if that boat runs aground.” Then run the situation to it’s worst outcome, and plan how you would salvage it.

Graduate to the tougher scenarios; “What if I catch on fire, what if I lose my engines, what if someone falls off the boat, what if someone breaks a leg, what if we start taking on water.”

Whenever you see something that does not “go right,” think of a better response, a faster reaction, a quicker method. Examine what knowledge, skills, or equipment would have salvaged the crisis.

Examine your reactions and thoughts on methods and reactions that you observe, and determine how you would react in that situation. Then think about getting some training so if you ever actually have to use it, you’ll have it.

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

Invest in Yourself

My First Aid and CPR annual course simply did not have enough depth and breadth for on-the-water emergencies. So, I highly recommend the Tactical Casualty Care online course from Crisis Medicine.

It’s taught by an emergency medical physician who is a former US Army Special Forces Medic (18D) who has trained thousands of private citizens, first responders in law enforcement, fire, and EMS in casualty management in high risk environments.

“Crisis Medicine trains students to quickly identify and treat immediately life-threatening injuries during a high-risk environment and avoid unnecessary loss of life.” Mike Shertz, MD/18D

For courses through Crisis Medicine, Mike has generously given me a code to share with you for a 20% discount; just use “DeepWH” at checkout for the Tactical Casualty Care TC2 course.

, Powerboaters Adrift in the Inlet // Why Boaters Need Emergency Situation Plans

What to Read Next:

What It’s Like to be a Charter Boat Captain – my take on my industry.

Sailing Captain’s Quickie Checklist – designed for leaving the dock.

Advanced First Aid Afloat – Peter Eastman’s primer on offshore medical aid.

Danger Signs of an Unsafe Dive Boat

7 Items for Dive Boat Survival – The Prepared Diver


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