I think it’s a no-brainer to say a PFD. We always wear ours when topside, good or bad weather, day or night. It’s a rule, period. I even make the dog wear his, which helps the small fries wear theirs. So lets assume you’re at the helm and it’s a dark and stormy night. You’d be wearing your harness and be clipped in so as to stay aboard. Now let’s assume the worse case.
You’re pitch-poled, knocked-down, your keel falls off or you’re rammed by a whale and you sink. Now what? You’re clipped to the boat via your harness. The first piece of equipment you’d best be carrying is a good knife. Something easy to open in the dark while you’re scared sh*tless and it better be in a place you can get to easily. You’re best bet is to ‘velcro’ it in place and have a lanyard attached to it. If you’re hands are too cold to move well you may loose your grip on it and the lanyard will keep it close to you.
A 121.5-MHz personal EPIRB and strobe light would be on the top of the list too. Find an EPIRB that will fit into a velcro sealed pocket of your foul weather jacket. Attach the strobe to your PFD with velcro and run a lanyard from it to the mouth inflator. This will help you find and keep it close.
Also, give some thought to how long your strobe can work. Lithium batteries are good for about 8 hours but err on the side of caution and think a couple hours less, cold seems to shorten the life span. Look for a personal strobe with at lease four AA or two C batteries. Hopefully, that will help get you through the night.
Holding onto things is going to be of primary concern. While attaching the equipment above by a lanyard is a great idea, you should also prepare for the possibility of breakage. Murphy’s Law and Neptune’s humor would dictate the lanyard would break at just the wrong moment. I’d get some sticky backed Velcro and put it on both the EPIRB and maybe the shoulder of the PFD (the part facing out when inflated!).
If possible, carry a couple of flashlights, they don’t have to be big and could prove helpful. The last couple of things to carry if possible would be some personal flares. A couple of smoke and a couple of red would definitely be a great addition in an emergency. The final suggestion could help should you find yourself still floating once the sun comes up. It’s something I carry in my BCD (SCUBA stuff) and it’s a small mirror to signal with.
While we all hope it’s never our boat that sinks, we must take precautions. We don’t make ocean passages yet but we do have our safety in mind when we’re on the water. Just yesterday, a radio talk show host stated that he didn’t even have PFD’s the first time he took his boat out on the big blue. If you’re traveling at night (ocean, river or lake), make it a rule that the above pieces of personal safety equipment are to be “on person” always, you never know and like grandpa said…better safe than sorry.
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