Safety Gear is More Important on Small Boats
The economic advantages of a smaller boat is obvious — lower fuel, maintenance and insurance costs, not to mention smaller marina
payments. But don’t rush out and blow the entire windfall on a new set of Internationals. Plan on investing in safety equipment commensurate
with the task at hand. Remember, when things go wrong on a smaller vessel, the ramification are likely to be greater.
Step one if you haven't already, toss out those cheap life jackets that came with your boat. Their main purpose is to make a boat Coast
Guard legal when it leaves the dealership. Upgrade to high quality, type I offshore life jackets and attach a whistle and strobe to each. Since life
jackets work only if they’re worn, you may want to buy and wear and inflatable. My son & I both use them, and get so comfortable with them on,
we often forget to take them off when going ashore. Also, don’t forget to have a throw-able flotation device handy, not just because it’s
required, but because it makes sense. Also men - use the head!
- It's a fact: Bet you didn't know that 9 out of 10 males that drown as a result of falling over-board, are discovered with their zippers down. .
. It's true. This little publicized fact is an official USCG statistic. Obviously, these guys were peeing over-board.
Another common shortcoming is the standard emergency signaling kit on most boats. As with life jackets, just because something meets the
Coast Guard requirements doesn’t mean it’s adequate for venturing offshore, or over to the islands. Many standard kits come with three aerial
flares yielding a total burn time of just 18 seconds. That would be almost comical were it not for the fact that your life may depend on being
located quickly. Here are the items aboard my boat, all of which are stored in a single watertight box (see required safety gear, at bottom).
Like computer hard drives, it’s not a matter of if, but when your outboard will decide to play dead. Adequate spares and a basic tool kit will
fix many of the common problems. At a minimum spares should include spark plugs, oil filters, fuel filters, thermostats, fuses, extra prop, cotter
pins and primer bulb. For emergency repairs add duck tape, wire, electrical connectors, zip-ties, hose clamps, epoxy and rope. Before each trip
you will want to charge the batteries and change spark plugs and filters. Perform a mechanical check on important systems.
If you are sailing - fine. If you are in a powerboat - losing power offshore can result in your boat drifting in a dangerous orientation relative to
the waves. Making matters worse, it will be difficult to fix the problem while rocking sickeningly from side to side. If you have an outboard, the
problem is worse, as swells and waves will often wet out your outboard completely. The solution is a drift or small sea anchor. Deployed off the
bow of the boat, it accomplishes three things. One, it holds your bow into the waves - the safest orientation. Two, it reduces boat motion
allowing you to concentrate on getting the problem sorted out. And three, it reduces wind induced drift keeping you relatively stationary.
Available for less than fifty bucks, no boat should be without one.
Given the space premium, communications and navigation choices should focus on functionality and reliability. Modestly priced GPS /
fishfinder units are small, accurate and designed to withstand exposure to the elements. Fixed-mount VHF radio is still the gold standard in
marine communications - it is the most effective means to communicate boat to boat. Because VHF is line of site, go with an antenna mounted
as high as possible. With prices for hand held GPS and VHF units plummeting, there is simply no excuse not to carry one of each on board as
back-ups to fixed mount units. Don’t forget to purchase an antenna adaptor that allows your hand held VHF to connect to your main antenna for
It goes without saying, if you venture far from land, take an EPIRB with you. Starting at roughly $600, they’re not cheap but they can save
your life. If cost is a barrier, you can rent one from Boat US.
Know When Not to Go!
Know when not to go. It sounds simple but can be tough to do in practice, particularly when you’ve spent weeks planning and getting
psyched. I would hazard a guess that the majority of bad crossings occur when enthusiasm gets in the way of good judgment. The night before
the trip I will have a good idea of whether I will attempt the crossing. The morning of the trip is when I decide whether to leave the dock. And
finally, when I am 10 to 15 miles offshore, that’s when I will make the final decision to proceed across the Gulf Stream.
If all goes well, (and it should go well) you’ll be in Bimini for lunch.
The ideal weather forecast for a crossing is calm to moderate winds out of a safe direction, i.e., not from the north, northwest or northeast.
For obvious reasons, stable weather patterns are desired as approaching fronts often bring deteriorating conditions. From a calendar
perspective, summer generally produces the best conditions for a small boat run to Bimini. An analysis of historical wind patterns off of Miami
dramatically illustrates this point. Bottom line, summer is the season for small boats.
The importance of weather dictates you monitor it religiously. Check local TV, The Weather Channel and NOAA marine aren’t. Always err on
the conservative side. One last note regarding weather. Winds are typically calmer in the early morning and thunderstorms have not yet had a
chance to develop. You may want to plan your crossings accordingly.
One of the drawbacks to small boats is that they are, well, small. And all things being equal, small objects fill up with water faster than large
objects. If you intend to keep the ocean on the outside of your craft, which is always a good idea, hull integrity and adequate bilge pump capacity
This is one case where an ounce of prevention is definitely worth of pound of cure. Make certain your vessel is as watertight as possible.
Weak hatches, control cable cutouts, flimsy pie plates and low transoms are notorious problem areas. Replace, relocate or seal up as
necessary. Deck lockers that drain into the bilge are another no-no. The goal is absolute watertight integrity.
- To illustrate the importance of this, consider a small hole, just one inch in diameter two feet below the waterline. This tiny opening will pour
almost 1,700 gallons per hour into your bilge! Unfortunately, most small boats are equipped with a single bilge pump rated at 500 to 750
No rocket science is needed to determine the ultimate outcome. At best you’ll be totally swamped, at worst you’ll be treading water. There are
simple things you can do to improve your bilge pump system. Add a second, larger pump to increase capacity - never rely on a single pump for
obvious reasons. Replace constrictive corrugated hose will with smooth wall hose. Upgrade wiring with a heavier gauge to reduce voltage drop.
Make all connections with proper crimps and seal with heat shrink tubing. Verify that your bilge discharge is high enough above the waterline to
prevent siphoning into the bilge. If not, add a riser loop or relocate. To catch minor problems before they become major, add a bilge alarm which
is nothing more than horn connected to a float switch set slightly higher than your regular float switches. Keep proper sized wood plugs handy.
Once you’ve upgraded your bilge system the weak link then becomes the batteries. Higher capacity bilge pumps require additional battery
capacity. Redundancy demands dual batteries, at least one of which should be deep cycle. Get the largest capacity batteries that you can
reasonably fit in your boat. Since outboard boats are often stern heavy, consider relocating batteries to the console. In any case, do not mount
them low in the bilge – if water enters the hull they will short out just when you need them the most. To keep them from becoming airborne
missiles in rough seas, use heavy-duty after market battery boxes.
FIRST. . . YOU MUST CROSS THE GULF STREAM:
During certain times of the year the seas between Florida and the Bahamas become glass calm, sometimes for days. Most of the time
however, crossing the Gulf stream can be as rough as it gets on any seas in the entire world. The rewards that await you - just 43 miles away - on
the other side of the Gulf stream, are simply beyond accurate description. Much like seeing the Grand Canyon, neither pictures or words can
describe the endless awesome beauty.
When it comes to safety, boat size is just one factor in the equation. Experience, weather, preparation and planning all play a vital part when
cruising to the Caribbean. The reality is that boats in the 20 foot range have been safely making the trip to Bimini for years. The Gulf stream
crossing over to the islands requires a strong sturdy seaworthy boat, one designed to handle the pounding of the ocean. If you have the boat -
cruising the Caribbean (once you get there) is (I promise) as good as cruising ever gets anywhere in the world.
Cruising the Caribbean: Your Ticket to Paradise
The soothing waves of the Caribbean turquoise waters, and fine pristine white sandy beaches call thousands of winter-weary travelers from
near and far. Counting both Cruise Ships and recreational vessels - the Caribbean is the most popular cruising grounds in the entire world.
There's a certain mystique about the Caribbean, where the sky is twice as sunny and clear and time stands still, seemingly, just for your
pleasure. It's Island time, and your journey is all about indulging moment by moment and leaving the ordinary world and your cares behind.
Cruising the Caribbean in your own boat presents a unique opportunity to explore both land and sea. It is much like packing the excitement
of two adventures into one. From the view on board - seaside or port side to swimming with dolphins or discovering exotic marine life while diving
for lobsters. It is an experience you will cherish forever.
If you haven't heard them already, stroll the
docks for any length of time and you’re bound to
hear horror stories of the Gulf Stream. Even
taking into account the natural tendency to
exaggerate, especially once the storyteller is
safely back on land and seated at the bar, the
underlying truth remains — crossing the Gulf
Stream is serious business. Things can, and
sometimes do, get quite ugly out there. Of all the
variables, weather is the single most important
factor in your crossing. Never trust the forecasts
and never trust the Gulf Stream.
As the world’s strongest and longest ocean
current, the Gulf Stream runs roughly south to
north as it squeezes between the Bahamas and
around Florida. Whenever the winds are out of
the north, northeast or northwest they run head
on into the ‘Stream. The result is never pretty.
Waves become large, steep and closely spaced
— exactly the conditions mariners try to avoid.
During strong northerly winds the Gulf Stream
becomes impassable regardless of vessel size.
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