Filed Under (Boating Safety) by Debbie on 08-05-2007

This past weekend we had our sailboat’s safety check by the US Coast Guard. They look at all kinds of stuff from the lights to PFD’s (personal floatation device…you know, vest…life jacket.) to accident report forms and beyond. I know lots of boaters who’ve never had a check done and I’ve always wondered why. It’s not as if you’re going to be fined because you don’t meet everything…and it definitely gives you an opportunity to find out exactly what you need.

Believe me you don’t want to find out in an emergency setting that you don’t have something that could save a life.

As we’re on the Columbia River in Oregon and as our sailboat is a coastal cruiser, we did have him check us out for coastal…not that I think we’re going coastal….but you never know. We had everything except for whistles on the PFD’s (as he put it, “you can still signal with your last breath.”). He gave us one, which of course as all parents know, goes on the kid’s vest. I have purchased 2 more and they are all now attached to the PFD’s. The other thing we don’t have is an orange distress flag incase we have a MOB oh…political correctness…POB…person verses man over board.

I know, power boater’s are thinking, what’s the big deal? Just turn around and pick them up. Remember, we have a powerboat which we wakeboard and hydrofoil behind, so I understand the thinking. A sailboat doesn’t just turn around like a powerboat and you can be quite a distance from the MOB/POB before you can turn back. Given weather conditions and river currents it could be very frightening and I’m thinking the whistles are a great idea.

We have more fire extinguishers on board the sailboat than are required. We shake them once a year and label the date on them. Have you checked yours? We found out that they should be turned over and shaken once a month. We didn’t know that…did you? Now if you’re sitting there scratching your head thinking, “I remember seeing an extinguisher.” Then you’d better start looking for it. A fire on the water is no time to start trying to find it!

All of our lights worked, which was nice as I’m the dedicated climber of the mast on our boat and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to a view from the top to replace a worn out bulb. We have the ‘don’t dump chump’ signs posted and the boat registration and pretty much everything else he asked for. Although there was some confusion about the valve on the toilet’s holding tank. Last year we were told to remove the handle from the valve which directs discharge into the water instead of into the holding tank, which we did. This year we were told to put the handle back on so USCG could see it was in the off position and then use a zip tie to secure it. Both made sense to us so I guess we’ll put the handle back in place and zip it…

We had a nice chat with the USCG guy. He told us to be careful when anchoring our sailboat during the spring run off. Seems that one family was out for the weekend and the wife and daughter were below and the hubby was topside dropping the hook. Somehow the fast moving current and some debri in the water caused the boat to swing about and the keel (long thing on the bottom of sailboat’s) began to wind around the anchor line. The anchor set firmly and the current pulled the boat down river and the line tightened up on the keel and the boat ultimately turned belly up. The hubby was able to jump into the water but his entire family remained trapped in the flooded cabin. A somber reminder indeed!

The inspection is fairly quick and filled with lots of information and advice. If you’ve never had this really expensive inspection (it’s free) then maybe this is the year?

We have our new sticker for the year displayed on the mast now. It’s not all that hard to comply and should the situation ever present itself, I hope what we need is aboard. Every trip I make a list of what we could have used to have a better time and then get it for the next trip. I hope never to have to list something that could have saved a life but wasn’t aboard. Water is a very unforgiving medium and we all need to give respect as there is seldom a second chance. Get your US Coast Guard vessel check today!

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