Training can be a matter of life and death

Published 4:44 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writing boating articles for the Washington Daily News on behalf of the Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron for three years, I’ve gotten compliments and numerous suggestions. The goal is to share with you the important message of the need for boating education, regardless of your boat size, in entertaining terms and experiences.

For example, PSPS has just completed a free, three-hour, basic weather course. Why is it important to understand the weather when boating? Don’t be caught by an unexpected storm. What is the importance of knowing what to do when electronics fail? Can you get your anchor down safely and properly in an emergency? Three words: life or death.

What if someone falls overboard? I have not fallen overboard and hope I don’t. If I go overboard, I pray my wife knows how to operate our boat to find me and then get me back aboard. I know I’ll be OK since she and I have taken the same courses. Also, she also took boating for women and by women. We’ve also practiced her skill, so I am confident she can rescue me.

I will always remember the gut-wrenching radio call from a man who could not find his wife after searching the boat thoroughly. They were on a 90-mile crossing of Lake Huron when she went below over an hour ago. You heard fear in his voice, yet he sounded calm and his radio transmissions were to the point.

He radioed, “This is Dazy Lays. My position is XXX. I believe my wife is overboard up to an hour ago. She is 57, grey hair, wearing a red top and beige shorts. She is not wearing a life jacket.”

I recall “57, red top, no life jacket” since that could have been my wife.

“We’re on a course of XX degrees from XX harbor to XX inlet. My chart plotter has tracking. Reversing course, following that track line.”

He waited a few minutes then repeated his message.

A few minutes later, a Good Samaritan intercepted the husband searching for his wife. The Samaritan radioed his assistance and, while appearing calm, fear overwhelmed the husband. Still, the husband had the presence of mind to follow training if there was a chance of seeing his wife alive again. Like doctors on double shifts, training, experience and adrenaline kick in to save lives.

A short time later, a third Good Samaritan vessel following the original course line spotted a bright red object in the water. It was the overboard wife who had tread water with no lifejacket for about 40 minutes. She was mildly hypothermic, virtually exhausted and probably would have drowned in another 10 minutes. Her husband radioing their past course led the third boat to the overboard wife.

My point is this: it’s extremely frustrating to see or sense the “I know it all, I could care less,” even cavalier attitude about training by too many boaters. That is until it is their wife, their child or themselves in a life or death boating predicament. It does no good to put on your seat belt after the accident.

I care about you. I care about everyone on or around your boat, as well as other boaters whose lives depend on each other. Yes, you, the boater reading this article. Get over whatever is holding you back from participating in basic seamanship plus other specific boating courses — regardless if it’s Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron education or those provided by another safe boating group. Get training, take advantage of the seminars and courses available to you. As the captain, when emergencies occur, lives can depend on your training — don’t let down your friends and family!

The Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron will begin the fall schedule of seminars and courses. To learn more, visit their web site at or email our education officer at