Suddenly In Command
McAllister, FSO-PA, 3-6
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
©Ray McAllister 2002
The Coast Guard
used to put out a small booklet called "Suddenly in Command". This
publication contained a few common sense rules and some brief
instructions on how to start the boat, shift it, steer it and stop it.
It also instructed you in how to pick up a person in the water, as
well as how to call or signal for help! Unfortunately, I do not think
it is still available!
I read it a
couple of years ago, and did not think much more about it until, one
day, I was diving just north of Baker's Haulover Pier, in Florida.
Here's an instance, where if someone had either taken the time to read
this pamphlet, or taken a safe boating course, a life would not have
be put to risk.
While boating, I
had my hand-held VHF radio on, and heard a woman asking for help. She
kept the transmit button depressed while she kept repeating "Help me!
My husband has had a heart attack and I don't know how to run the
boat. Help me!"
She never let up
on the mike button so I couldn't respond to get her location. And I
knew she had to be close. The VHF radio was only 100 milliwatts, and
at the best of times will only carry a signal for a mile or two over
I scanned the
horizon for a boat in trouble and could see nothing. Finally I gave up
and continued on my course. About an hour later I headed for Baker's
Haulover Inlet and saw a commotion on the beach just north of Haulover
A boat was
grounded there and an ambulance had come to the area with lights
flashing. As I came in I could see them carrying a man on a stretcher.
I asked a Marine Patrolman what had happened and he told me the man
had had a heart attack and the boat, containing the victim and his
wife, had drifted onto the beach.
It was the lady
on the radio! I hope no one told her that she might have saved him had
she known; 1) how to use a marine radio, and 2) how to run the boat if
she was "Suddenly in Command". Too often only one person knows how to
start and run the boat. If that person is incapacitated or falls
overboard disaster is sure to follow.
I later was told
about several similar incidents. The first such incident was near Boca
Raton, on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). In that incident the owner
who was also the captain had a heart attack. No one knew how to either
run the boat or use the radio. By the time they flagged down another
boat, the man had died.
In another case a
man apparently suffered a heart attack on a ketch in the ICW. The two
other persons aboard were not able to handle the ketch, so the
gentleman was not able to get medical attention until the sailboat
drifted to the bank.
A delay in a case
like this could be fatal. On the ocean a boat could drift for days
without rescue. The lesson to learn here is: ALWAYS BE SURE SOMEONE ON
YOUR VESSEL CAN OPERATE THE BOAT IF YOU ARE INCAPACITATED! Better if
everyone aboard can start and run it.
In the event of a
mishap, make sure everyone knows how the radio works! Everyone should
be told how to contact the Coast Guard. Let your guests and crew know
that if they can't raise the Coast Guard, try to raise anyone else on
VHF channel 16.
Teach them these
simple procedures: How to turn the radio on (power it up); How to
transmit and to remember that they need to RELEASE the microphone
button so the Coast Guard can communicate with them.
Make sure they
understand and are ready with the type of information that the Coast
Guard will request. What is your location? What is the emergency? What
type of boat are you in or how can they identify the boat? How many
persons are on board?
The Coast Guard
recommends that you show everyone what steps to take in an emergency
as a matter of prudent boating. I heartily agree. It could save your
life or mine! And be sure to tell them how to use a marine radio to
call for help.
Remember, if that
woman had just released the microphone key, help may have reached her
husband in time to save his life.
information about safe boating and safe boating courses, contact your
local United States Coast Guard unit or your local United States Coast
Guard Auxiliary Flotilla. The Coast Guard is listed in your phone
book. You can visit them on the Internet at
www.uscg.mil (USCG) or
www.cgaux.org (USCG Auxiliary).