For many years now, I've reviewed every boating fatality in Alaska; 2011 will no doubt be very similar to previous years in terms of statistics; 9 out of every ten fatalities are adult males, 3 out of 4 are powerboats, 9 out of 10 are under 26', 1/2 are in salt water; 1/2 in fresh water and 5 out of 6 fatalities are falls overboard and/or capsizing. Within the past few days, the Coast Guard has responded to several skiffs in distress; taking on water/capsizing...luckily, no one lost their lives in these mishaps.
It occurs to me that in those cases where lives were lost, there were only two 'avenues' that may have averted a fatality: 1) Self-rescue or 2) Assisted rescue.
Self-rescue is that situation in which you actually have the skills, equipment and presence of mind to get out of the water...how many of you can reboard your boat without assistance? How many of you have actually done it? Is your boat equipped with a boarding ladder? Do you consistently use an engine shut-off lanyard? Do you consistently wear your life jacket?
Assisted rescue is typically more likely to occur than self-rescue. Usually, most folks don't boat solo and often (in Alaska) boats might travel together, allowing rescue 'redundancy'. If you did fall overboard, are you able to get someone's attention? I remember one of my gulf crossings and I was on the back deck pumping fuel out of barrels into the fuel tank, it was pitch dark, snowing and seas were only about 4'-8'. My brother was at the helm and the other crewman was in the rack. I thought that if I slipped and fell overboard, there would be no way that I could alert my brother nor would he know I was gone until it was too late to turn around and find me. Sobering thought.
Thinking about all this has led me to work on developing a small 'rescue kit'. This kit will be on my person at all times when underway, fastened to my life jacket. I don't make equipment 'brand recommendations' but I'll share with everyone the particulars about what my kit consists of:
Mustang Survival MA6000 pouch designed to fasten to PFD
Inside the pouch: ACR ResQLink PLB, Greatland Resuce Laser GLF031-01, Tri-Power Safety Whistle, Standard Horizon HX851 Floating 6W handheld VHF radio w/GPS and DSC, BlastMatch fire starter, Spyderco Assist C79BK knife and Orion OLI-925 orange distress flag. Total cost about $950
Depending on the circumstances, I feel confident that this equipment, properly secured, will provide me the resources to facilitate assisted rescue....naturally, if I am able to self-rescue, I likely won't need any of it (and I hope I don't need it!). Expensive, yes. Worth it, (to me) yes.
And, the best tip of all....
Don't fall in.
Boat Safe! Mike