By Ensign Justin Daniel’s, US Coast Guard Sector Boston
Imagine that you're taking a road trip to visit a friend. Perhaps you'd provide the time you plan on leaving the house or the path you intend to travel ("I'll stick to I-295 and then get on the expressway"). Perhaps you'd plan on giving them a call or text somewhere along the way ("I'll call you when I'm halfway"). Most certainly, you'd let them know when you plan to arrive.
Most of us pass this sort of information without even thinking about it on a daily basis. Not only is it common courtesy, but it helps to ensure that if something does go wrong someone will have an idea of where we might be and what we were doing. The same logic applies to activities on the water, including canoeing and kayaking. On the water, this plan of action is referred to as a Float Plan, and it provides much the same information as in our road trip scenario.
Why a Float Plan?
Each year, Float Plans have helped the Coast Guard locate people in distress and save lives. A Float Plan is equally important and effective for a kayaker as it is for the owner of a 20-foot cabin cruiser or a 50-foot pleasure yacht. So long as the pertinent information is provided—times, locations, routes—it will help track you down if the worst happens. When our search planners begin to look for a missing mariner, this information is crucial in determining where to search, what Coast Guard assets to employ and any special considerations (medical, ability to swim, personnel flotation devices worn). A Float Plan will include all of the information that the Coast Guard will need to know if a paddler has failed to report as anticipated.
What does it entail?
Good Float Plans include the following information:
• Waypoints and geographic positions
• Check-in, arrival and departure times
• Characteristics of people onboard (age, gender and medical considerations)
• Communications equipment onboard (cell phone and radios)
• Survival gear onboard, including personal flotation devices
• Canoe/kayak characteristics (color, size and make)
• Contact information (phone numbers, addresses, email)
• Any other special information
The key is to complete a Float Plan and leave it with a trustworthy person on land, someone who will be trusted to notify the Coast Guard or other rescue organization if you fail to return as expected.
Where can I get one?
Electronic versions are now readily available to anyone looking to head out for a day of paddling. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary provides a Float Plan that can be found at either: www.floatplancentral.org, or on the Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division website at www.uscgboating.org/safety/float_planning.aspx. This Float Plan is highly recommended, and if completed thoroughly should provide all of the necessary information.
The Coast Guard also distributes bright-orange "If-Found" stickers for canoes and kayaks. They have space to write a name and two phone numbers. The Coast Guard requests that paddlers use one of the two phone number lines for the number of the person who knows their Float Plan. The public can acquire the "If-Found" stickers from the National Safe Boating Council's Free Resources website at http://www.safeboatingcampaign.com/resources.htm, or though local Coast Guard Auxiliary.
The next time you head out for a day of paddling don't forget to complete a Float Plan and leave it behind with a friend or family member who can notify the Coast Guard if something goes wrong. It could save your life.