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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: marine safety

Last Ditch Effort–Advice on Stocking a Boating Ditch Bag


From my friend Frank Sargeant at The Fishing Wire:

Most experienced boaters have heard the stories of boating disasters – vessels capsizing, sinking suddenly or catching fire far from help and the reach of other boaters. These misadventures usually share a few things in common – the crews began the day without a care in the world and things – sometimes several things – went wrong quickly. And at that moment when you realize this really is happening to you, there is no amount you wouldn’t pay for the proper safety gear – particularly if you don’t have it.

“Safety gear – particularly modern rescue electronics – can literally make the difference between life and death,” said Scott Heffernan, Sales Manager for The GPS Store, Inc. “There are just as many stories with happy endings, where families were saved because they had planned for that worse case scenario by preparing a Ditch Bag with items to help them be found by rescuers quickly. If you sail, cruise or fish in the ocean, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to invest in your safety,” added Heffernan.

What is a Ditch Bag? Bags like the ACR RapidDitch Express are designed to keep safety electronics and survival gear organized and ready for immediate abandon ship situations. They are meant to “grab and go” when you have only seconds to get in the water or life raft. This floating bag and its contents then become your lifeline. If you ever do find yourself in this situation, here are some of the things you’ll be glad you have packed inside:

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon: EPIRBs like the ACR Global Fix Pro can be affixed on the vessel or carried in a ditch bag to notify Coast Guard and local Search and Rescue teams and provide your GPS position over two separate frequencies (406MHz and 121.5MHz, respectively). Some EPIRBS are meant to be manually deployed, while others activate automatically if the vessel sinks. These are required equipment on many commercial and passenger vessels – for good reason.

Personal Locator Beacon: PLBs like the new ACR ResQLink are small but powerful rescue aids. Much like an EPIRB, it broadcasts a 406MHz satellite distress signal to the Coast Guard and a separate homing signal for local Search and Rescue authorities to pinpoint your position. The ResQLink is small enough to attach to a flotation vest, yet it boasts an accurate 66-channel internal GPS for precise positioning. Prepared boaters should have an EPIRB for the vessel and a PLB for each person aboard – as individual crew may end up miles apart in an emergency.

Emergency Handheld VHF: Standard Horizon’s HX851 handheld was designed for use in ditch bags, with a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) distress button and built-in GPS that alerts all DSC-equipped vessels in range with your position. This is vital, as nearby boats are your best shot at quick rescue. A full functioning waterproof VHF, the HX851 lets you talk with rescuers and other vessels. It also glows in the dark, includes a built-in strobe light that automatically activates when the radio gets wet, and it floats.

Light Yourself Up. Being rescued takes on a whole new sense of urgency in the dark. You must be seen to be found, regardless of the electronic aids you have at your disposal. A stocked ditch bag should contain plenty of emergency strobe lights, like ACR’s RapidFire vest strobe. Designed to attach to each crewmember’s life jacket and activate with a pull-pin, this tiny light puts out a bright flash and operates for eight continuous hours – making a big difference in your chances for survival.

This is just some of the equipment that goes into a well-stocked ditch bag. Whistles and signal mirrors also help you get seen and heard by nearby boats and rescuers. Other items like water packs, flashlights, duct tape, glow sticks, protein bars and sunglasses can add to your comfort and safety. For more information on ditch bags and safety equipment, contact The GPS Store, Inc. at (800) 477-2611 or visit www.TheGPSStore.com.

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a WORD about WEATHER while on the WATER!


Don’t get me wrong, but Florida can have some nasty weather.  It can be bone-chilling cold in the winter months.  And it can be swelteringly (if that’s a word?) hot in summer.  However, summertime is the time of year that tropical depressions–and even tropical fronts–can bring lightning down on the heads of unwary and unsuspecting boaters and fishermen.

My “Rule Number One” is to ALWAYS take a look at the weather map and to understand the trends that lead up to bad weather.  In summer, if it rains and storms one day and there’s no official Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, or Hurricane in the news or on the big maps, it likely will rain and storm for day–at generally the same time each day.  A look at the Intellicast website for your specific area (or for the area to which you’re heading) is a good idea.  If it looks like this, stay at the dock.

A typical summertime afternoon storm crosses Florida’s Big Bend!

Another good “Rule” is to look in the general direction you’re boating, and if the sky’s black, and it’s not nighttime, change your course.  If you have radar, you can sometimes find a hole between squalls, but don’t be suckered into the maw of a storm thinking you can outrun it.  It’s sometimes better to anchor up or seek shelter ashore rather than run from a storm.  Summer storms are often small in diameter, and will pass quickly.  If you have a smartphone like Apple’s iPhone, a good radar “app” is Weather Bug.  It gives you good radar information, and is free.  All you need is cell phone service, which is available at your APP store.

You’ll likely have a few minutes notice before a big storm like this one hits. Take cover, if possible, under a dock or bridge. Or anchor up and get all your geat and crew down.

And speaking of anchoring up and waiting-out a big storm, be sure to take all your rods and antennas down.  You don’t need any lightning rods on your boat.  And if the lightning gets close, have your crew lay down in the boat, away from any metal parts.  And for sure, don’t let anyone fish!

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Even in Florida, Cold Weather Boating Requires Extra Caution and Preparation


While the majority of boaters in colder parts of the country have winterized their boats or put them into storage until spring, many still rely on their vessels for hunting, fishing or necessary transportation in cold weather, substantially increasing their risk of a deadly accident. Extra caution and preparation should be taken before heading out on the water in winter.

The U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary says the importance of wearing a life jacket becomes even more critical when the danger for hypothermia is added to other concerns.  Sudden immersion in cold water can have severe physiological consequences, such as cardiac arrest, fast loss of body heat (the body loses heat 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air) and involuntary inhalation of water (gasping) that results in drowning.  Most Coast Guard-approved life jackets when worn are designed to keep the user’s head above water while awaiting rescue.

In addition to wearing a life jacket, wearing the right clothing also can contribute to a more enjoyable and safer cold weather boating experience.  Consider layering clothing, including a wet suit or dry suit, to help ward off the effects of hypothermia.

Following are some additional tips for safe winter boating:

–Assess the risks – envision what can go wrong and be fully equipped and prepared.

–Leave a float plan with a responsible individual who knows your intentions, location, and who to call if you fail to return as scheduled.

–Carry a VHF radio or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), signal flares and other means to draw attention to your location.

–Be aware of and prepared for the shock of sudden immersion and incapacitating effects of cold water – dress to get wet and carry a change of clothing in a waterproof container.

–Maintain situational awareness on the water – be aware of activity around your vessel and potential for fast-changing weather conditions.

–Boat safe and sober – save the alcohol for when you’ve safely returned.

–Be sure your vessel is in good operating condition and has the necessary safety equipment on board before you leave the dock.

–Refresh your seamanship skills…take a boating safety course offered by your local Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla.

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Score a “Touchdown” – When Choosing a Life Jacket

by on Aug.02, 2011, under Uncategorized

From the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary:

WASHINGTON-There’s no doubt that life jackets save lives. An average of nine people a day in the United States die as a result of drowning – deaths that could have been prevented. But a life jacket that does not fit properly can put a person at risk of drowning. Proper fit is imperative for safety on the water.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has a few tips to follow when choosing a life jacket.

·         Choose only a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved life jacket, and the correct size for the weight of the person. The USCG stamp of approval, size, whether it is for a child or an adult, and appropriate weight of the wearer should be listed inside the jacket. A person’s chest size and stomach size may come into play when selecting the right life jacket.
·         Use the “touchdown” test to see if your life jacket fits properly; Lift your arms above your head as if calling a touchdown. The chest portion of the jacket should not touch your chin when you look left, right or over your shoulder. If the jacket passes this test, it most likely fits. If possible try it out in shallow water. The life jacket should not ride up on your body. However, ride-up may happen if your stomach is larger than your chest.
·         Weigh a child and measure for chest size under the arms before shopping for a child’s life jacket. A properly fitting jacket should be snug but not tight.
·         Check for proper fit of a life jacket on a child. Wearing the jacket, the child should stand normally with arms at his or her sides. Grab the jacket at the shoulders and firmly lift up. The jacket does not fit if it moves more than three inches up and down the child’s body during the test.
·         Ensure a life jacket for an infant or child has a crotch strap to help keep the life jacket on, an oversized float collar to help keep the head out of the water and a grab loop for easier water rescue. All straps should be intact and fastened at all times.

What is the safest life jacket? In terms of risk of drowning, the safest life jacket is the one you’re willing to wear! There are many good choices to keep safe on the water. Some of the choices are a better for certain situations than others, and therefore the choices are explained in the “Think Safe” life jacket pamphlet that is sold with every US Coast Guard approved life jacket. By reading the pamphlet, you can understand how to safely have fun on the water.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer Component of the United States Coast Guard created by an Act of Congress in 1939. The Auxiliary, supports the Coast Guard in nearly all of the service’s missions.

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Electricity and Water Don’t Mix: Good Advice From The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

by on Jul.26, 2011, under Uncategorized

WASHINGTON- The Coast Guard Auxiliary suggests you have your dock inspected periodically for bad wires and loose grounds. The same goes for your boat. Any time a person swims around a dock or boat where there is AC power, electrical shock could occur. A boat plugged into shore power with a short on board is dangerous and the owner may not be aware of it. AC current may enter the bonding system if an AC ground becomes disconnected then electrical current can enter the water by way of a bonded thru hull fitting. The boat dock can also develop a short and create a potential life threatening hazard. Some drowning were discovered to be from electrical shock.

Electrical discharge into salt water from a boat is not as dangerous as discharge into fresh water. The reason being, salt water is a better conductor and will allow the current to flow to the bottom or some other grounded metal around the dock or to the neighbors boat while fresh water being less conductive will form an electrified field around the boat. Many marinas have stopped allowing swimming around docks because of these hazards.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer Component of the United States Coast Guard created by an Act of Congress in 1939. The Auxiliary supports the Coast Guard in nearly all of the service’s missions.

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Capt. Tommy’s April 22-24, 2011 Florida Sportsman Fishing4Cast, “Surviving the Spring Rush”

by on Apr.22, 2011, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST

While scallop-season Saturdays are probably the worst days of the year to navigate narrow inshore and river channels on the Big Bend, big spring weekends like the upcoming Easter one can be bad, too. It’s not yet summertime, but to quote the late great Sam Cooke, “the living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high. Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good looking!”

I’m not so sure that the last phrase accurately describes your daddy or mama, but the fishing’s really improved over the last few weeks, and despite windy conditions there are lots of folks on the water. And lots of folks can mean lots of confusion, especially if folks don’t understand the basic Rules of the Road when it comes to boating.

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“Downtime” is Good Time to Check Marine Safety Gear


From the good folks at the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

“Downtime” is Good Time to Check Safety Gear

WASHINGTON – Don’t arrive at a launch ramp and find your on-board safety equipment missing or in need of repair.  Use “downtime” to check your boat’s safety equipment and make sure it’s in top operating condition. The following safety items are essential (and required by law):

  • Life jackets –one wearable Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board in good, serviceable condition, of appropriate size and type for the intended user and readily accessible.
  • Throwable floatation – Boats 16 feet and longer (except kayaks and canoes) must carry one throwable device (cushions, ring buoys, etc.)
  • Visual distress signals – Vessels over 16 feet must be equipped with day and night visual distress signals; vessels less  than 16 feet are not required to carry day signals but must carry night signals from sunset to sunrise.  Signaling devices include pyrotechnic devices (flares and smoke), orange distress flags and electric distress lights.  Check if you are unsure of what devices are required for your vessel.
  • Fire extinguishers – Coast Guard-approved, marine-type fire extinguishers are required on boats propelled by machinery mounted where they can be easily reached away from locations where a fire is likely start.
  • Sound producing devices – include bells, horns, and whistles.
  • Navigation lights – Vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc).  Check the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules, International-inland for details.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer component of the United States Coast Guard created by an Act of Congress in 1939. The Auxiliary, America’s Volunteer Guardians, supports the Coast Guard in nearly all of the service’s missions.

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Fueling Your Boat–Good Advice from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary


Fueling Your Boat

WASHINGTON -A fire on a boat is frightening and, often, fatal.  When fueling, chances of a fuel fire are heightened.  Gasoline fumes are highly flammable.  Here are some precautions:

  • Close all of the windows and doors before refueling.
  • Frequently check fuel lines and connections for leaks and worn spots.
  • Be sure all electrical devices are turned off, as well as the engine.
  • When gasoline passes through the hose, it generates static electricity.  If that ‘sparks’ with the fumes at the fuel tank fill point, an explosion can occur.  To dissipate the static electricity, keep the metal nozzle of the hose in contact with the metal part of the refueling opening.
  • Try not to spill any fuel during the process.
  • When fueling is complete, securely fasten the gas cap.
  • Open up all windows and doors to ventilate.
  • If you have inboard or inboard/outboard engines run the bilge blower.  Run the fan for at least five minutes.  (It’s a good idea to run this blower before ANY engine start, since even a small leak can produce lots of fumes.)

Use your nose!  If you smell gas, shut everything down and find the source.

Another fire hazard is cooking fires, either from propane tanks, stoves or grills.  Be sure all connections are tight.  Install a fire extinguisher close to the galley.

Boats less than 26’ must have at least one B-1 extinguisher.  Boats between 26’ and less than 40’ must have two B-1s or one B-2.  When buying your extinguishers buy the ones that have “ABC” printed on them.  They will put out combustible material and liquids (such as gasoline or grease), and electrical fires. The number indicates the capacity – II is larger than I.  As to how many and what size to buy, more and larger is the way to go.  Make sure fire extinguishers are Coast Guard approved.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer Component of the United States Coast Guard created by an Act of Congress in 1939. The Auxiliary, America’s Volunteer Guardians, supports the Coast Guard in nearly all of the service’s missions.

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