Two is One – One is None

My brother fishing on his boat with his back-up first mate.

by Mario on December 13, 2010

in Boating Safety,Risk,Survival

My older brother and I have this thing about phone tag.  It takes four calls and three messages (typically laugh-out-loud funny messages) before one of us is not too busy to answer.  So I was really surprised the other day when I called his number and he answered – because the man was definitely too busy.

“Hey Bro, listen, we are moving a 54 foot cruiser for a friend and the GPS just went out –  trying to get it back – no idea where I am – can I call you back later?”

I told him to check the antenna lead for corrosion, restart the unit, and other than that it is probably a lost cause.  I think at the same time we both thought “Maybe a guy that owns a 54 foot boat thought to buy a $90 throw-down back up GPS unit?”

 “I’ll look in the drawers; call ya later!” – Click.

I never got that “later” call so I know it all turned out just fine.  If he’d’ve had problems he would have called me before the Coast Guard so I could tell him “don’t call me, call the Coast Guard.”  – but it got me thinking again about the usefulness of back-ups and checklists prior to getting underway.  Five minutes spent going through a well-developed list of things you shouldn’t miss before leaving the docks can save hours of trouble and avoid possible hazard out there on the water. 

Everything works before it breaks – so you’re not allowed to be too suprised when the more sophisticated electronics go bad.  And all you salty captains might have a point about celestial and other forms of navigation – but with $90 bucks and some spare batteries my big brother could have solved his problem in 2 minutes and worried about electronics repair back at the dock.  On a boat that takes $1,800 to fill the tanks, the owner can’t pretend to be worried about a spare….anything really.  What is often missed is just the development of a reasonable list of things to check at regular intervals and before starting the engines.

 “Location of spare GPS unit and batteries:  Check.”

Checklists and the items to put on them are unique to every vessel and usually have to be developed over time and with considerable thought.  Vessel manufacturers are very good about including checklists for engine starts and general info about getting underway or securing the vessel – but invariably, something vital is being left off that can mean the difference between a small problem and a real problem.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be making a very solid checklist book for my own boat.  I’ll be sharing the things I include (and why) in upcoming articles and videos.  Until then, remember that when it comes to vital equipment like GPS, radio, engines really, and for goodness sake hose clamps on through-hull fittings; two is one, one is none.  You’re going to want a backup.

 If anyone has ideas for checklist items or things you need two of, please send me a message.  What do you never leave the dock without a spare for? No one ever carried too much knowledge aboard. 

And Big Brother, if you’re reading this, how about a call back?  If I don’t answer, just leave a message…..and try to make it funny.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.

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  • Blcrowley

    Moms of babies and toddlers will totally agree.;you don’t leave home without a checklist and “backups”. Once we were hit by a surprise ice storm on a ‘quick trip’ to the library, and had to wait it out. We didn’t have a bottle for the little one. Such a small thing was a BIG problem! Maybe not life-threatening, but stressful and difficult!! BE prepared!!

  • Marion Gropen

    We always have
    –two ways to get off the boat
    –twice as much food and water as we think we’ll need for the trip, because sooner or later, we’re gonna get hit by a storm and not be able to go ashore for a planned restaurant dinner, or whatever. Or we’ll need to throw a party onboard with no notice! (and that’s a safety issue when your guests are really hungry!)
    –two warm, weather-proof layers for everyone
    –two ways to cook
    –two sets of cell phones and two VHF and two GPS units. Can’t figure out how to do two radar units, or we’d do that, too.
    –two methods of propulsion
    –two hulls (dinghy and big boat)
    –two sets of lifejackets for every body
    –twice as many dock lines as we need to tie up normally (’cause sometimes that storm on the horizon is bigger than you think).
    –twice as much cash as we think we need, ’cause an emergency dive to clear the prop or whatever always requires it.

    That will do for now, but there are more! (And my rule on computers is a rule of threes — so maybe I should increase my backups on board??)

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