Grandma and grandpa offered valuable advice when they said, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
Every boater should take this to heart and take a few minutes to file a float plan. It does not require contacting the coast guard or filling out extensive forms. You don’t even necessarily need to pick up the phone. To file a float plan, simply means to let someone know where and when you are boating, with whom and some details regarding your boat. For a long voyage a detailed float plan form left with a friend or family member may be appropriate while for an afternoon fishing trip a note to your spouse with the details of where you can be found and when you will return may be enough. It’s not always easy to make time to share a float plan but it’s a tool that has saved lives.
If it Floats, You Need a Float Plan
Some people think a float plan is only for large vessels leaving on an ocean voyage, but tragedy can hit any boater – sport fishermen, jet or water skiers, sailboats, rowers and family day cruisers. Whether you are in a kayak, canoe or powerboat, if you leave land you need a float plan so that if something goes wrong on the water someone will know to look for you. Think of it as your insurance against the worst-case scenario. Regardless of how much boat insurance you carry on your vessel it cannot help you while an emergency is taking place, but filing a float plan can. If you wouldn’t think of leaving the dock without boat insurance you should think twice of leaving without a float plan even if all that is necessary is a verbal message.
How to Create the Best Float Plan
A float plan is a simple document that outlines where you are going and when you expect to return. Some boaters heading out for a short excursion will simply let someone know their float plan verbally, but in the event of an emergency some people panic and forget details. Whether you’re heading out for a short day trip or longer cruise it is best to write a proper float plan. It should include:
A description of your boat, including type, color, size, registration information
A list of who is on board (names and ages, including infants)
A brief overview of safety equipment you have at the ready
An outline of your expected navigation route
A timeline of when you expect to be at your destination(s)
When you expect to return
There are even several online float plan templates available for free, which make creating your float plan practically effortless. Once you have a float plan created it is even easier to modify it or change it as needed for your next boat trip.
Who Keeps the Float Plan?
Leave your float plan with someone reliable and reachable. Suggestions include one of the following:
When you leave the float plan, instruct the person holding it to let the Coast Guard or other search and rescue agency know if you have not returned within a reasonable time after your expected return. This way, the appropriate authorities will know to look for you and every minute is valuable in a life-threatening emergency situation. Do not try to give your float plan to the Coast Guard because they will not accept them.
Keep in Touch
Sometimes plans change or the weather conditions force you to modify your boat trip plans. If circumstances or personal preferences change your float plan route or destination(s), let your contact person know as soon as possible. This will ensure that your float plan is accurate and your contact person is not left unnecessarily worrying. It also guards against involving search and rescue forces unnecessarily.
Now that you understand what a float plan is and how it works, make an effort to create and file one in preparation for your boating trips. Try taking the time to properly fill out a detail float plan with your boat details once and then just update it for each trip and leave it with a responsible person. This simple process will serve as insurance, just in case you find yourself in trouble.