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    Situational Awareness

    April 28, 2018


     Learning how to run a boat is one of the most memorable things a person can do, some learn on their own and others, with the help of a mentor.  It's important to remember that situational awareness is your primary job when you are running a boat.  Situational awareness is:  Knowing what is happening around you in terms of time and space.  Not a step into the twilight zone, but definitely into another dimension.  You see, when you step off the dock and onto a boat, you leave the 3 dimensional worlds we know behind.  You now have to deal with the tide, wind and weather in a completely different way.


    What you already know –  When you first wake up in the morning and stretch out your muscles, you probably have a good idea of what your next steps are.  Alarm Clock> Bathroom> Coffee> Shower, etc.  You probably have a good sense for what to wear because you watched or heard the weather the night before and recall the meetings or job you have to do that day.   Now car key’s seem to have a life of their own in my home but I’m sure yours are right where you left them, as is your car.  As you back out of your drive, you remarkably know exactly where the opposing curb is and stop just short of it.  Now in forward gear you go three blocks down your road to the stop sign make a left, the ¼ mile to the light, left again and you reach the gas station in two minutes, etc... 


    It is conceptually the same when making your plan for a day on the water; however, you have these new dimensions or elements with which to deal.  The weather, tide, your destination and your crew will ALWAYS make a large impact on your day.  Weather and tide have obvious implications but what about the destination and crew?  Your plan for the day hopefully includes a destination, as a plan without one usually leads to trouble.  Your crew makeup is critical in your plan, as you need to assess whether uncle Harvey or little cousin Suzie will be a help or hindrance.  That is not to say you should leave your friends and family at home, it is prudent practice to have a second set of eyes and ears on board.  The US Coast Guard uses a risk assessment tool, which provides the crews with a go/no go indicator, called the GAR model.  They look at 6 different elements for the proposed evolution (boat ride), which are Supervision, Planning, Team Selection, Team Fitness, Environment and Event Complexity.   Each one is given a number grade and the resulting math shows whether it is a Green, Amber or Red assessment.   Let’s see how we can use these elements in putting together a boat ride for you and your family or friends. 


    Supervision or Qualification - What are the skipper’s qualifications?  Is he or she new to boating or a 100 Ton Master?  Having basic boating skills is essential to a good plan.  Would you send your kids to New York City with a driver who just got their license?   Someone who understands weather, tides, and current who also has local knowledge and a good sense of what to do in most situations is essential to a safe and happy outing. 


    Planning/Details – As I have already mentioned, The Plan is essential, without one, you have no direction, no time frame, no clue.  Many unfortunate sailors have found the lack of planning very costly and not just in terms of dollars. 


    Team Selection/Crew – The crew is anyone beside the skipper that is along for the ride.  Does Uncle Harvey understand how to assist with docking?  Does Suzie talk a lot and need to go to the head every 12 minutes?  Distractions take away from the skipper situational awareness more than any other element, especially when that distraction is your child or an intoxicated or ill individual. 


    Team Fitness/Crews Health – How well will your uncle do holding a 6000lb boat against the wind with a spring line?  Will your first mate be able to haul you in the boat if you fell over?  Does your friend’s wife get motion sickness or does someone onboard have a medical condition that could require emergency assistance at a moments notice? 


    Environment – What is the weather like now, what will it be like when you reach your destination and upon your return?  Are you leaving on the rising or falling tide and does your course place your vessel in jeopardy because of that?  How are the seas?  Will they pick up in the afternoon?  Will the hot sun kick up hail and lightning storms in the afternoon?  Will the high or low temperatures affect your ability to handle the boat?


    Event Complexity – Have you ever been to this location before or are you exploring a new harbor or body of water.  Unfamiliar surroundings and lack of local knowledge are probably the number 1 reason boaters get in trouble.


    So what does all this mean?  In simple terms, you need to have a plan, a plan that includes all of the elements above and a good idea of how you would rate them.  That is not to say that every trip out on the water requires a board of review but lack of your situation will get you in trouble.  You need to know where you are going and why you are going there, what the weather is like before you leave, during the ride and on your way back.  Understand the state of tide and the difference from your departure and return.  Know the draft of your boat and how deep the water under the boat is all the time.  Have an excellent comprehension of the areas chart and what all the symbols mean, those black dots represent ROCKS and the buoys are NOT street signs, they warn you of dangers on the other side of them.  Get some local knowledge, a good chart and compass and decent GPS/Sounder and you will do fine!

    If you need additional training, reach out to us. We have patient, trained Captains who will walk you through what you need to know to become a better boater, or make a better boater an expert boater!!


    Categories: Captain John's Log

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