By Judy Hills, roving ACBS reporter

Be truthful now, when is the last time you filed a float plan?  If you are saying to yourself, “What’s a float plan?” then perhaps a little education is in order.

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary in their boating education course recommends that you “complete this plan before you go boating and leave it with a reliable person who can be depended on to notify the Coast Guard or other rescue agency, should you not return or check-in as planned….”  This float plan is just as important for a 10-foot kayak as it is for a 24-foot Chris Craft Runabout or a 90-foot sport fishing vessel.  Any of these can run into trouble.

The form starts out with basic information on the vessel.  If you and your boat were to disappear on the water tomorrow, just how much does your family actually know about the boat that might be useful to those searching for you and your boat?  Even if you didn’t file the full plan, it might be a very good idea for your family to have this information ready, if needed.  To find out just what your immediate family knows and doesn’t know about your boat, ask them these questions:

  1. What are the name of the boat and the hailing port?
  2. What is the year, make & model of the boat?
  3. What is the length and hull type?
  4. What is the propulsion type?
  5. How many gallons of fuel does it hold?
  6. What is the registration number?
  7. What are its prominent features?
  8. Is there a VHF radio aboard?
  9. If it is a trailered boat, can you describe the trailer?
  10. What is the license number of the trailer?
  11. What are the description and license number of the vehicle pulling the trailer?

If your immediate family can’t readily answer these questions, the starting point would be creating a file with this pertinent information. 

If your family calls the US Coast Guard to report that you and your boat are missing, the agency is going to want to know what your family knows about your plans for that trip.  Who was onboard?  Did the operator or anyone else onboard have any known medical issues?  What was the purpose of the trip? Where were you leaving from? Where were you planning to go?  What time were you leaving and when were you due back?  The more information that can be provided the greater the likelihood that the search might result in a good outcome.  “I don’t know” will not be a helpful response.

Remember, these antique and classic boats are OLD. 

Even though most do the best they can to keep them in top running condition, they may not be as reliable as we hope.  If you are boating in a small lake with lots of boat traffic, chances are you will be able to flag down someone to help if you have trouble.  But if you are in a large body of water—or one with lots of coves, nooks and crannies, you may be in a place where you can’t be seen.  Paddles will only get you just so far in a larger boat. 

Weather conditions may also wreak havoc with your boating plans.  We have had friends get into serious trouble on what looked like a decent day when a sudden storm came up.  Also, certain bodies of water and inlets can be treacherous under certain conditions.  It doesn’t matter how well you know these dangers or how good of a boater you are, if your engine cuts out in the middle of a tricky run through an inlet, your boat can pitchpole in a heartbeat.  If your family knows your plan, at least they might know where to start looking if you are overdue.

And then there is the fact that many of us in this sport are OLD and we do have various medical issues.  It doesn’t matter how well your boat performs or how great of a seaman you are, if you are incapacitated, you won’t be getting home if you are alone in the boat.  Even another boater going by might think you are just napping, not having a heart attack. 

So thinking about this material, are you still adverse to completing a float plan?  We hope not.  If you take the same trip often, you can create a plan just for that trip.  Another thing you can do is to leave a copy of this plan in your vehicle at the boat ramp if you trailer your boat.

Here is a link to the BoatUS Float Plan:

Here is a link to the USCG Auxiliary Float Plan:

Here is a link to an online fillable float plan:

There is also an online float plan registry (we are not endorsing this product, just mentioning it as an option):

It is better to be safe than sorry!

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