The Float Plan
One thing we never did when I was boating as a kid was create any kind of plan and tell our parents. When I look back on it, this was totally hair-brained, considering what we were doing. As pre-teens, we whizzed around unsupervised in seriously treacherous waters in a 13 foot dinghy. One of our favorite family destinations was Big Bay in British Columbia. We would cruise up there from Seattle in our 50-foot steel-hulled trawler, the little Boston Whaler on top. Did we have any idea what a float plan was at that time? None.
Big Bay is unlike any other place with its peculiar location relative to tidal flows. The salmon fishing is amazing because of this. Every day we saw several Tyees brought into the docks and excited crowds swarming the arrivals. A Tyee is a 30+ lb. Chinook, one of the best fighting game fish there is. The excitement and stories coming in with the boats were not only about catching such prizes, but about surviving the waters. It was a hair-raising experience. At full ebb tide, water rushes down from Bute Inlet through narrow passages, creating rapids and whirlpools capable of swallowing small boats. A shout out to eomoe who captured this phenomenon on youtube:
While fishing there, it was not uncommon to have a yawning whirlpool open up next to you, forcing you to dive on the throttle and rush through an evasive maneuver. Added to that, the waterways in that part of the world are like catacombs. In a disabled boat, you could end up miles away in an unknown cove. We’re talking remote wilderness, freezing waters and bear territory.
My brothers and I were moderately experienced at that age, and the Whaler was definitely a worthy boat for the task, but we carried no cell phones or radio back then. The exploring was tremendous because of this. In half an hour you could be 15 miles from base in some strange little ecosystem of it’s own. We knew the risks to some extent, but being out there, far away from Mom and Dad and civilization, we were witness to the most amazing natural wonders. Killer whale pods hunting, bald eagles swooping down to snatch fish, endless beds of oysters, sea pickles (no, they are not edible). We explored inlets where the plankton was so dense you could scoop it out of the water in a cupped hand. We would even go out at night, leaving the anchorage to test our bravery. Make no mistake, though. A single outboard is a single outboard. If that Merc crapped out, who knew where we would end up.
“Back in a bit,” we would shout out, stepping on to the very flat little boat. “Hope so,” came a snoozing response.
Why Make a Float Plan?
It’s likely that you have been on a boat that did not have all of the safety precautions in place. There are bare minimum requirements, those mandated by law, and there are those that are recommended in order to avoid or handle various types of problems. One of them I don’t see very often is the Float Plan.
Spend some time on this and you won’t regret it. The larger and more complex your voyage is, the more important a float plan is, but it is important for every excursion. If you’re going out, it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back. A good float plan has more than that. It tells the person you give it to (and–hint–that is NOT somebody on the trip with you) details about your trip, but also about who to call if you don’t return, and several other details. The link below gives you important information on what a float plan is and how it works. There is even a fillable pdf you can download.
Key Boating Safety Links
Believe it or not, your enjoyment increases the better prepared you are. You will not worry as much about what could happen if you are ready, and the others travelling with you will gain comfort from it.
Coast Guard Guidance of Float Plans
Coast Guard Guidance on Communications on the Water
Key Boat Safety Considerations