by Dom Wiseman

There is an old  saying that goes something like this, ‘prior planning prevents poor performance’ and it applies to almost everything, although in the case of boating this prior planning can actually save your life or the lives of those onboard in the event of an emergency.

Boating can be a dangerous pastime. Weather can change, boats can break down and bigger boats can swamp smaller ones if you happen to be in the wrong spot. From a safety point of view, no one should ever head out in a boat without telling someone where they are going and when they are returning. In the event of an emergency this can mean the difference between being found alive or not.

If possible set up a notepad or place where you can write your intended trip and duration so that family members are aware of your plans. There was, prior to the department being rolled into Services NSW, a NSW Maritime fridge magnet on which you could fill in the vessel details and trip information. There are sure to be apps these days and possibly even some type of tracking you can employ during your trip.

Aside from the obvious safety issues there are other things to consider when going boating. Where you are going will determine the safety gear you must carry as will the number of people you plan on having onboard. Other safety issues such as are there children coming and how will I make them safe are to be carefully pondered. Yachts and large boats without adequate vision for instance are often not the place for small children and it can be easy to fall through netting, or over the side. Perhaps consider confining them to the cockpit and ensure a lifejacket is worn at all times at a minimum.

One of the most common problems encountered during safety checks are out of date flares and insufficient lifejackets. Make sure you mark on a calendar when you need to replace items so as not to risk the lives of those onboard. Accidents are few, but they do happen.

The decision to go boating can often be made at the last minute. You wake up and the day looks great so off you go. Prepare yourself a checklist to follow starting with obvious items such as safety gear but also include a weather and sea conditions check. Weather can change rapidly and there are many places you can do this, but is a favourite of mine and is reasonably accurate. Also use the government Bureau of Meteorology site, for weather warnings.

Whilst out on the water also monitor the coastguard radio frequencies VHF (Channel 16) and 27 MHz (Channel 88) in case of any changes and log-on and off and perform a radio check with your local base before you head out of sheltered waters just in case your radio is not working for some reason.

Beyond the weather checks also consider items of convenience such as food and water. Any boat should carry fresh water as the harsh Aussie sun can cause dehydration very quickly as I have found out the hard way before. Prolonged exposure can leave you feeling delirious and weak and it’s just not nice.

Preparation should be done the night before if possible using a check-list. This will ensure that you are not left stranded without working equipment. Following a procedure of check weather, advising someone where you are going, check boat plus gear, pack appropriately, log-on with the coastguard and continue to monitor weather updates and your day should go smoothly.