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Out of Sight, Out of Mind

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The last thing we want to think about, while slipping through the waves on our stately vessels, is an emergency, but thinking about it should be further up the list than last. If the power goes out at home, you think about flashlights and batteries. If the car breaks down, you call your spouse or AAA. In a boat, well, that is a different story. If you are anything like me, some of the time you purposely put yourself and your crew in a place where there is no AAA. You know, off the beaten path. The ‘rode’ less traveled.

There may be some devices on your ship available to you that may have slipped your mind over the years or escaped your notice completely. There are items you have or should have at your disposal to get you through the rare occasion that might be considered an emergency, or maybe just a spot of bother. Those items won’t do any good unless you know where they are and how they work.

First, there are two procedures that are very important and worth discussing. Both are covered extensively in many publications. I mention additional points as food for thought:


Or m’aidez (help me) as the French say. There really should be a VHF radio on board—preferably two and a handheld. Someone besides the skipper should be able to make a call for help in case the skipper is the problem (unconscious or overboard). The crew may not be as well versed in radio calls. Make a script to follow with your vessel’s name, description, and color already printed out. Have places, to fill in the blanks, for your present position, number of souls (people) on board, and the nature of the emergency. Put it where your crew can find it. Have them take a serious look at it before anything goes wrong.


This is important subject and deserves an article all its own. Procedures vary, but the key is to practice, practice, and practice. There are maneuvers designed to approach the MOB such as the “quick stop” and the Anderson Turn. Look them up, write them down, and talk about them. If you do not practice (I have to admit, we do not practice enough), think about what you would do, and think of all the ways you and the crew can move safely about the vessel (wearing PFDs) without falling off. Also, think about getting a tired and wet 200-pound man back on the boat after you turn back and bring him along side.


Do you have one? Where is it? Close to the rudderpost is a good place. How is it hooked up? There are two situations where the tiller will work: if the bolt connecting the hydraulic steering rod to the tiller arm falls out, or if the system fails, and hydraulic fluid all leaks out. If you are working against the autopilot or the hydraulic system, you will not be able to manually move the rudder. If there really is no emergency tiller, or if the rudder itself is jammed and will not move, try the bow thruster. In calmer seas, I have had my wife steer our boat at idle power with the thruster, while I replaced a bolt in the steering system.


A hole in the hull and more water coming in than the bilge pumps can handle is an ugly situation. Some boats have a way to turn the raw water-cooling system into an emergency bilge pump. Take a look at your raw water-cooling circuit and see if you have this capability. The system uses a valve located downstream of the raw water intake through hull that lets the engine pump pull water from a flooding bilge into the cooling system and pumps it out with the exhaust. If this valve is not installed, there may be a way to close the raw water intake through hull and cut the hose in a way that has the engine driven raw water pump act as a second bilge pump. Cutting a hose to allow the engine pump to aid the bilge pumps would be a serious action. Cutting the wrong hose could compound the situation. Marking the proper hose to cut ahead of time would be a good idea. In either case, the engine room water level would require close monitoring to ensure a continuing source of cooling water if the bilge dries up.


I carry a one-half horsepower AC sump pump (from Sears) that out-pumps all my bilge pumps. In normal circumstances, it is handy to quickly drain my freshwater tanks when I need to clean them. In an emergency, I could also help another boat with this pump. I could power the pump with my genset and hand it across to a boat that is taking on water. The hope would be to stay ahead of the flooding until more help arrives or the hole in the hull is plugged. Of course, it might save me in the same way someday. I don’t want to test that theory.


Getting the anchor down in a hurry, even with no electrical power available is not a likely scenario, but it could happen. Maxwell and Lofrans anchor winches both have a way to do this. Maxwell has a flat bar and Lofrans has a pipe that allows the clutch to be released to let the anchor fall. The operating manuals outline the procedure.

If I have to haul 200 feet of chain back aboard, hand-over-hand, because my windlass quits then it’s not really an emergency. However, if there is an easier way, why not use it. The same bar or pipe mentioned above will de-clutch the motor from the gypsy or drum and let you turn the winch “by hand” using a bar it the base of the winch on the Maxwell and with the pipe to ratchet the Lofrans. Check the manual for the retrieval method.

But wait, there is one other way. Do you have a mast and an electric winch on the mast to launch the dinghy? Even a manual winch on the mast and a crank works better than the windlass ratchet. Hook a line to the chain and use the mast-mounted winch to pull the anchor chain up ten feet at a time. This would be easier than the flat bar on the Maxwell.


Consider the following: The vessel is anchored. The plan is to stay another night. It is time to charge the house battery bank back up from 40- to 50-percent discharged. The genset battery is flat and dead. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a set of jumper cables to start the genny from the engine battery bank?


If another cruiser has dead batteries and he is moored close to you, there is a way for your AC system to charge his dead batteries. You need an adapter that is a 110VDC male “household” plug on one end and a 30-amp female on the other. Plug into the AC outlet in your saloon, start your genset and you become “shore power.”


Prior preparation prevents poor performance. If you and your crew have located the equipment discussed here and talked about its use, your response to an abnormal situation will be more effective. It probably won’t be a walk in the park, but things will get back to normal sooner, and the chance of further complications will be lessened.