Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Float Plan

How quickly we forget. In a world were the internet is at the tip of your fingers, many don't consider what happens when we are out of cellphone range. As cruisers, we're still learning. In our crossing window from Florida, a fellow sailor was reported overdue. On top of notifying the Coast Guard, a combination of internet (FaceBook, messenger & email), VHF radio and SSB radio was used to send out a BOLO (be on the lookout) to local boaters. Several relays resulted in communication with the overdue boat--he had mechanical issues and was heading to a different port. 

As pilots, we're used to filing flight plans, but with sailing there is more to take into account. Here are some emergency contact ideas for family and friends:

Our "float plan" person is a family member with boating experience (to avoid false alarms) and tech savvy enough to text/email/skype. They have a partially completed copy of the Coast Guard float plan form with all pertinent info such as MMSI number ( Then each leg, we email departure time, route mileage, eta and intended destination (with marina or buddy boat contact info if available) and "when to call the Coast Guard" info--(usually by sunset unless it's a previously planned overnight). 

Another thought--give as much information about your intended destination as possible. Great Turtle Cay is a "small" island with Black Sound to the south and White Sound to the north. There are at least 6 marinas/docks/mooring fields in addition top of anchorages possibilities outside the entrance.  Yes, destinations change based on weather or availability. You can update when you close your float plan. Make sure they have a guidebook or access to Active Captain.

Make sure your float plan person has a good photo of the boat and a description (black canvas, kayak on starboard bow, hardtop bimini with solar, dinghy in davits). If you have a blog or "boat" Facebook page, it should also have good pic of your boat.

Our emergency plan is an Iridium GO sat communicator for when we are out of cellular range. We have limited text, email and phone capability, along with access to Twitter (more than one set of eyes making sure "we're here!")

We also have a VHF radio for short range radio communications, but not long range SSB (we have a portable-receive only SSB for receiving weather faxes and Chris Parker broadcasts in remote areas).  However, a lot of our fellow sailors do have SSB, making a relay a possibility if we're running late.

Another option is the local cruisers net. The Abaco cruisers net is broadcast on VHF 68 at 8:15 am, then available on the website ( Family can email (boat name & contact person in subject line) and they will broadcast a BOLO or an emergency "call home."  Georgetown also has a cruisers net.

Another way to communicate a BOLO is Chris Parker. He has a weather service that broadcasts throughout the US Atlantic coast and caribbean. Even if you are not a subscriber, sailors can listen to his broadcast on SSB. Even if you don't listen to his broadcast, a fellow boater may. You can contact Chris to put out a BOLO at

We aren't active with Seven Sea's Cruising Association, but many cruisers are. They have a net and Facebook page. 

Consider allowing a family member or friend access to your blog or Facebook page. As soon as we had internet access, we checked on all of the people we knew who crossed with us.

Fair winds and following seas, my friend--but just in case...

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