Don’t Do What I Did
In my experience, there’s nothing more frustrating than having something go wrong that causes you to lose control of your vessel while underway. Running aground, engine failure, mechanical issues, or simply running out of fuel makes it impossible to continue or return to port. You’re stuck, but it’s more than an irritation. When you’re out on the water, the situation can quickly turn dangerous.
Being dead in the water in the middle of a channel can result in an unavoidable collision with a freighter or oil barge. Running aground at the wrong place or wrong cycle of the tide may be more serious than just being stuck for a while. Your boat and your life could be in jeopardy depending on traffic patterns, weather conditions, and the dimming of daylight.
I had an out-of-control situation happen to me in the waters of a narrow channel. I foolishly opened only one of the two seacocks for the raw water feed to my engine, and sure enough, it became clogged by a floating plastic bag. Before I could shut off the engine, the impeller dried and jammed, which made cooling the manifold impossible.
It was a scary situation. When a car breaks down, you can drive off the main road, climb out onto terra firma, change the flat tire or simply wait inside safely, with a cup of coffee, until help arrives. As we know, there’s none of that pace or leeway in a boat. You are constantly drifting, perhaps towards further danger, and there’s no “shoulder” to exit onto and get out of harm’s way.
What I did in that channel was keep my head, make sure everyone aboard was safe, and call for a tow. I could act quickly in an emergency because I had planned for such an eventuality by taking out towing membership insurance. It’s not expensive when you consider that even a short haul can cost you hundreds of dollars without a policy, and that’s without factoring in peace of mind.
I knew the towing service I’d contracted with covered the areas I regularly cruised, marked the channel they monitored on the VHF, and also had entered the tow help phone number into my mobile phone just in case. I noted the time of my call and knew to call back (or switch to the emergency frequency) should I begin drifting towards danger.
I also appreciated that even were I to drift onto that waterside shoulder — aka the shore — I must not walk away in search of a cup of coffee to calm my nerves. That might be deemed abandonment, which has financial and perhaps legal consequences. Boaters who beach should call for help and then remain aboard. When help arrives, confirm that the towing is fully covered before the service attaches its lines.
As luck would have it, being dead in the water happened to me again in the Hudson River. The bronze rudder serving my boat since 1936 decided to meet its maker, break at the shaft, and drift off to a watery grave. I was horrified and anxious, but I didn’t panic. I knew exactly what to do — reach out and get help underway. I guess you could call this feature Do What I Did! this month, come to think of it.
By Daniel Fannon
Daniel Fannon AP is Commander of the Bayside, NY Power Squadron. A version of this article originally appeared in a publication of the United States Power Squadrons.®