Don’t Do What I Did
I can’t tell you a thing about the day that was remarkable, thought it was a perfect boating day — nice weather, good company, and a fun destination. On the way back, things plummeted quickly, and it was entirely my fault.
The captain trusts me to make sure that the first aid kit is stocked, and that there are remedies for seasickness and ample sunscreen aboard. He knows I keep a few extra sweatshirts in the cabin in case anyone grows cold and I’m always urging people to stay hydrated. So he trusted me when I said I was buying new life jackets to replace the boxy orange ones we’d had for years.
I donated the old life jackets to a rowing program and set off to buy new ones. While it wasn’t anywhere near as fun as shopping for a new car or a new wardrobe, life jacket shopping was enjoyable. I visited a few marine supply stores armed with a list of sizes we’d need and the U.S. Coast Guard rating for our boating needs.
I narrowed down the choices, compared prices, and purchased enough life jackets to fit the maximum number of people we’d ever have on the boat. I bought red ones, green ones, blue ones, and a pink one (I know my audience). Each life jacket came neatly packaged in its own sealed plastic wrapping — I left it on to keep everything neat and clean.
Each time we took a trip that season, the captain explained to our passengers where to find the first aid kit and how (and when) to use the VHF radio. He pointed out the location of the life jackets and urged everyone to wear one. Some were boaters who’d brought their own and others weren’t too keen on wearing them for a day in the bay. Whatever the reason, no one availed themselves in July of any of the spiffy new jackets I’d bought.
The first Saturday in August was, as I wrote, perfect — until about 10 minutes into our return trip, when three or four speedboats raced by us so quickly that they sent multiple forceful wakes hurtling towards us. In a flash, the captain was struggling mightily, so I shouted to everyone aboard, “Put on your life jackets NOW!”
The boat was rocking awfully and water was coming over the sides. The two men closest to the locker opened it and began pulling out the life jackets. My heart sank as I realized what they’d be grabbing — sealed plastic bags of jackets that weren’t ready to wear. Everyone grabbed a jacket and tore the plastic while we jostled each other and butted up against the sides of the boat. I was frightened we’d capsize before each person was in a jacket.
Fate gave us a competent captain and a sturdy vessel, but I was reminded how quickly things change and why seconds are so precious in an emergency. My failure to make the life jackets ready at a moment’s notice could have seriously endangered one or all of our passengers. You can bet that if you come on my boat now the life jackets are unencumbered and reachable with more speed than the sunscreen!