Search Gulf Coast Fisherman's
A successful cruise begins with careful trip planning, and today new technology and the Internet have simplified much of the work. These four steps are essential:
o Explore the location prior to boating it
o Check the weather forecast
o File a Float Plan
o Inspect your vessel before departure
The Internet provides a wealth of information for planning trips in advance. Using a robust search engine you can now research particular bodies of water for tips on travel-planning, navigating and tide management. You can take advantage of new tide tracking technology being incorporated into boat GPS units and nautical watches. You can even find tide tables in various formats -- including printed versions and CD-ROMS -- through commercial vendors. Regional charts can be found online through the National Ocean Service at http://tidesonline.nos.noaa.gov/.
If you confine your boating to your local area, the newspaper or local radio will provide information on tides, currents, and the weather forecast. Sometimes local boaters are the best resource for insight into potentially dangerous on-the-water conditions. The point is to find out as much as you can about the area where you'll be boating: weather conditions, hazardous areas, expected boat traffic, and the location of recreation and fishing areas. If you're unfamiliar with the area, you might check a local nautical blog. And always be sure to watch your speed.
Checking the weather deserves special mention, as it's high on the list of things most often overlooked. The weather forecast will help you determine if you should go out and what extra gear to bring if you do. Track the extended five-day forecast, either on local AM/FM radio or television, or on Internet weather sites. If equipped, check your VHF-FM radio weather channel. At the marina, check for small craft advisories, storm warnings, and other alerts that warn boaters of higher wind, waves, or river bar conditions, either imminent or expected within the next 24 hours. Knowing there's a "chance of a thunderstorm" doesn't tell you if one is headed your way. so during the volatile summer months be sure you know what to do if you're caught on the water in a sudden squall. Do you ride it our, or head to shore? Knowing the weather forecast will help you make that decision.
The idea of filing a Float Plan is of fairly recent origin, but it can be an essential tool for Search and Rescue. First published in the 1994 edition of the Federal Requirements and Safety Tips for Recreational Boaters, a Float Plan form asks for critical information about you and your vessel to assist the U.S. Coast Guard or local law enforcement should you fail to reach your intended port as planned. A Float Plan is not filed with the U.S. Coast Guard. Instead, you should leave a copy with a family members, marina operator, a spouse, or anyone with whom you've established an expected return time. Printable Float Plans are available online at www.uscgboating.org/safety/fedreqs/saf_float.htm. You can fill in the basic data and photocopy a stack, leaving only the destination and passenger information to complete before your trip.
Complete a pre-departure checklist prior to launch to make sure your boat is in good working condition and has all the required safety equipment on board. If your boat is usually kept on a trailer, then ensuring that your trailer and towing vehicle are in good working order and that the boat is properly secured to the trailer should be on your list. The pre-launch checklist here covers many of the basics. You can also download a more detailed Pre-Departure Checklist from the U.S. Coast Guard at http://uscgboating.org/safety/fedreqs/saf_prechecklist.htm
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