A family of six is rescued 13 miles off Miami Beach by the
Coast Guard cutter Dolphin. The cutter was able to respond
immediately to their location because the captain was able to
provide exact coordinates before the 65-footer sank.
PHO TO BY USCG PE T TY OFFICER 3RD CLASS MARK JONES
TOP: A commercial fishing vessel provides some perspective
on the view from a helicopter. BOTTOM: Lone survivor in a life
raft in the vast expanse of the Atlantic.
— By Michael Vatalaro
and distance, even roughly to local landmarks, can give the Coast Guard a starting
point for their search.
The impact with the unseen object
has pushed the rudder through the hull.
The gaping wound can’t be staunched. If
you haven’t already, put on that life jacket.
You’re about to enter the water with whatever you can grab in the cockpit on your
way off the transom. “Once you’re in the
water, the first thing you do is inventory,”
says Hathaway. “Collect your people. Gather together everyone and everything you
can reach. Put on your life jackets, if you
haven’t already.” At this point, your job is to
do everything possible to make it easier for
the Coast Guard to find you, regardless of
whether they have a position to start with.
The techniques can be broken down into
visual, audible, and electronic.
Bigger Is Better
you’re in the water is to make yourself,
well, big, says Hathaway. Gather as much
flotsam from your boat as possible. Tie together anything that floats: coolers, fenders, seat cushions, you name it. You’re trying to be the biggest possible target so you
can be seen from the air. Hathaway recalls
a search mission in Alaska, where the crew
of a missing crab boat gathered marking
buoys together in the water to make a ring.
The air crew that spotted them never saw
the much larger hull of the fishing vessel,
but did spot the brightly colored buoys.
If you don’t have much to cling to, you
can still make yourself bigger to passing aircraft by splashing in the water. “Try throwing water up over your head when you see
or hear search aircraft nearby,” says Hathaway. Any splashing that gives you height
above the water helps.
When To Shoot
The most common question boaters
ask during Hathaway’s classes is, “When
do I shoot my flares?” If there were other
boats in the area when yours went down
or aircraft passing overhead, shoot two off
immediately, back to back, as long as you
have three or four in reserve. “The first flare
will catch someone’s eye, but they won’t
be sure what they saw. The second one will
bring them in,” says Hathaway. And don’t
let the first time you open your flare kit be
the first time you need it, he says. He often
performs this exercise in his classes: Hand-
ing an unfamiliar flare kit to a participant,
he’ll grab a model Coast Guard helicopter
and pace across the front of the class hold-
ing it aloft, saying, “Here’s your chance,
here’s your chance, can you shoot?” Often-
times they’ll still be fumbling with the kit as
he’s finished crossing in front of them. But
flares aren’t the only way to attract attention
from search aircraft.