By Michael DeGenaro, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.
Charlotte Harbor is undoubtedly a boater’s paradise, attracting families from all over the country. Despite the harbor’s calm waters and sundrenched beaches there are still some basics to remember to ensure continued enjoyment.
Assisting boaters on Charlotte Harbor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year has given insights to some of the more avoidable difficulties that some boaters experience. To keep it safe and fun requires a little bit of education.
First and foremost it is important to carry all of the proper safety equipment. If you are unsure as to what you need contact your local Coast Guard auxiliary, and they can provide you with a list of minimum requirements. Consider taking an advanced boating course in addition to the basic course. Having a full understanding of navigation is an excellent start.
In addition to the required safety equipment a VHF radio is a must, and a GPS or chart plotter is also recommended. Marine electronics have become comparatively inexpensive in recent years and very easy to use. Even so, some boaters have decided to forego even the most basic electronics.
Boaters should never substitute a cell phone for a VHF radio. Cell phones are great to have on board, but signals can be spotty. If you intend to go farther than 8 miles offshore any signal is lost all together. The most important reason for having a VHF onboard is that every vessel in near proximity can hear your distress call and can respond immediately. Your VHF radio can also work in conjunction with your GPS to display an exact location in the event of an emergency.
Follow markers when under way and always refer to a chart regularly. While under way be aware of your geographical location. When contacting a rescue vessel one of the first questions they will ask is “what is your geographical location”?
If you do become disabled you should be able to describe your location to a responding vessel. Markers are an excellent reference. If you remember passing a marker 30 minutes ago heading east at 5 knots, your position can be plotted with some accuracy. Using a radio tower, as a point of reference is usually not helpful, many towers can be seen for many miles.
In most instances setting an anchor in the event that your vessel becomes disabled is very important. Although you may be in no danger at the time of an engine failure, circumstances do change. Even drifting into shallows could make a rescue more difficult and time-consuming.
While under way you should always be aware of your leeward shore, leave enough distance between you and any danger in the event that you do become disabled. Before getting under way check that your anchor rope is free of any tangles or obstructions, and that it is easily accessible. When setting your anchor be sure to let out enough rope and never attach it to the stern. I have salvaged more than one vessel that was anchored at the stern and sank as a result of wave action.
If you are new to boating there are many organizations dedicated to keeping boaters informed and safe. Boating and fishing clubs are a great way to get started. A club will allow you get your feet wet, so to speak, and learn from other boaters in your area.
Many of the clubs in Charlotte Harbor plan day cruises to some of the many destinations in our harbor and beyond. Traveling with a group will allow you to safely gain some experience navigating and cruising. Always remember having the proper knowledge and equipment will ensure many fun-filled days on Florida’s beautiful open waters.
DeGenaro is owner of Sea Tow Charlotte Harbor and a member of the Charlotte County Boaters Alliance.