As we often pine to be afloat with a deck beneath our feet, we might even feel compelled to venture out with proper planning. If so, the Float Plan, oft spoken of and more often ignored, can be key for you and those closest to you. That's what this column is about.
The Float Plan is nominally known as a mechanism for ensuring that missing vessels are indeed missed in time for action to be taken that might otherwise lead to the rescue of the crew rather than the recovery of their bodies.
"Boat-A is supposed to be at Payne's Marina in the Great Salt Pond on Block Island at this time and date. Is it there?"
So, in a nutshell, float plans are all about SOLAS - Safety Of Life At Sea. However, as the title infers, the development of a float plan delivers nothing but upside to the boat's master and thus to the crew who are fully the master's responsibility.
The ideal float plan involves the detailed analysis of getting to your destination and returning safely. The float plan provides the opportunity for the skipper to sit with his or her charts, in the calm of a kitchen, den, or study, and literally walk through the passage with parallel rulers and dividers.
What is the goal of such detailed analysis? The net effect is to create your own Pilot Guide for the entire passage and to be able to assign predicted times to each leg. Deviation from predicted times is an early warning to the skipper that something is up – working against (or with!) a current, cross winds creating additional work effort for the engines to hold course, etc. All of this translates into fuel consumption "deltas" which ultimately leads directly to SOLAS issues.
If you have made an error in the development of your pilot guide, the rest of the guide is likely to be suspect and you'll have to do what every skipper has done for centuries untold – improvise carefully.
If the chart is generally consistent but winds and tides have done the inevitable, then the overall pilot guide is likely to still have integrity but, once again, you'll have to do what every skipper has done for centuries untold – improvise carefully.
With respect to predicting the weather, I use the website www.weather.com and the reason I do is because I can get weather predictions by the hour. If the chance of precipitation for a particular day is 50 percent, but it is 10 percent in the morning and 90 percent in the afternoon, I want to know that. Put in your zip code or city name and click "Go."
Click on "More Details" and see how the hourly details add to the weather analysis.
Nothing is more likely to surprise you and more potentially perilous to happen than running aground – and understanding the tide is all about that. There are several good services to use but there is something very subtle about tide analysis that no chart gives you.
Tides change at different rates at different places. (Watch for a column here soon where we'll talk Time and Tides.) Knowing the tides at an inlet while spending the next six hours transiting from cove to bay "on the inside" could require major mental gymnastics in order to keep pace with the tide as it works its way through that inlet and across the bays and into the coves. Why do that if the internet can do it for you?
Local Notice To Mariners
As of April 1, 2004, the United States Coast Guard stopped mailing the Local Notice to Mariners. Instead, it is accessible on the Internet – and they will even email you a link to the updates each week as they "go to press."
The electronic versions of LNM appear on the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center's website at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov.
Why go out upon the briny deep with less information than is available to you? What's the upside in that?
Go on their website, click around until you find the area for you to put your email address in – and from then on get, direct from the United States Coast Guard forevermore, the latest they know about what is happening "out there." For free.
Battening Down the Hatches
So, in summary, a complete Float Plan – left with someone responsible and capable of checking on you over the course of your passageway – encompasses all of these components.
And a prayer:
Your sea is so wide,
And my boat is so small,
BTW, if you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at JoinUSCGAux@aol.com or go directly to the D1SR Human Resources Department, which is in charge of new members matters, at DSO-HR and we will help you "get in this thing."