Search and Rescue (SAR) is a term used by the Coast Guard, and others, to name the exercise when a boat is overdue and presumed in jeopardy.
Of the two words, the search part of SAR is the most difficult. If you can't be found, rescue won't happen. Rescue can be relatively easy. Certainly, on our lake, it is not a difficult task.
So, how do we take the search out of search and rescue? It's easy. We prepare a float plan prior to departure. The plan need not be overly complicated, but it should cover the following points:
- Description of the boat -- type, length and color, with its registration number and name
- A description of your car, its license number, and what marina or launch ramp where it is parked
- Number of people on board
- Where you are leaving from
- When you are leaving
- Where you are going
- Your route
- When you expect to return and where
- Your cell phone number
- Contact on shore and phone number
- What to do if you don't return as scheduled
Leave the float plan with a good friend -- someone you can trust to take action once you are overdue. The Coast Guard and other agencies will not take your plan. They do the rescue part.
Your friend will then call the appropriate party to come to your rescue. The appropriate party could be a friend with a boat, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or state officials from the Department of Natural Resources. The float plan simply tells the rescuer where to look.
You can print up a short float plan with the above information either pre-entered or completed just prior to the trip.
If this still seems like too much, just tell someone where you are leaving from, when you will be returning, and what to do if you are overdue.
Recently, I found a new service on the Internet that allowed you to file your plan online. You enter into the database much of the above information. When you activate your plan, you tell the site when you are leaving and when you will return. If you do not return (that is, cancel your plan) the site automatically contacts whomever you listed so that the rescue phase can start. The service is free.
I signed up for it and will test the system, but it looks like it should work. The Web site is www.usfloatplan.com.
No matter how you file your float plan, there is one huge responsibility on your part. You must cancel your float plan at the completion of your cruise. If you don't, rescue operations will start and can waste a good deal of time and money while you are safe having dinner at your favorite tavern.
For more information or to broaden your knowledge, make plans to attend the next Coast Guard Auxiliary/Army Corps of Engineers boating course. It is coming up on June 21 at the Thurmond Dam Visitors Center. Call or e-mail either Jay Weidman or me for details or directions and to enroll. Weidman can be reached at (800) 533-3478, ext. 1172, or email@example.com.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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