Going The Distance? Prepare A Float Plan

April 11, 2012

A float plan is kind of like jumper cables. You won’t need it at all until you really need it. Then, you will look like the smartest boater on the water. Until then, however, you should get into the habit of using a float plan, if not every time you’re on your boat, at least every time you plan on venturing beyond your well-populated comfort zone.

So, what is a float plan? Simply put, it’s a way to let someone know where you’re going and when you’re likely to return and/or check in. Float plans can cover a few hours, a few days or even months for extended voyages, such as The Big Loop. The idea is that, in the case of an emergency, someone will know where to come look for you or, if needed, help the authorities narrow down the search area.

The best way for a float plan to help (again, when you really need it) is to be short, to the point, and in writing. That way, there’s less room for misunderstanding if your plan is needed. Here are some tips for creating an effective float plan.

Put It In Writing

Telling someone over the phone leaves too much to chance. Your plan should be in writing (either on paper, email or even a text). Give (or send) the plan to a family member or friend. It will help if they live in the area you’ll be boating. If you don’t have family or friends close by, you can leave your written plan or with a marina neighbor or dockmaster.

There’s An App For That

If you’re under a certain age (or readily embrace outdated forms of communication like “paper”), there are a few great float plan apps that are convenient and easy to use. The benefit is that you can store your boat/contact information and just change the trip data as needed. Plus, if your phone has a GPS function, you may be able to automatically “check in” when you reach certain coordinates. Every time you shove off, the app will email your plan to one or more friends and family members. Just type in “float plan” from your smart phone, and check out the different options.

Be Specific

The plan should include a description of the general area where you’ll be boating, any stops you plan on making, when you’ll be returning and a list of anyone who is going with you. Make sure you include your boat’s brand, model, year, boat name (if you have one), hull identification numbers, and anything else that could help someone spot you on the water. Dark hull? Wake tower? Flag or burgee? Racing graphics?

Launch Details

If you’re trailering, include the name and location of your boat launch ramp, along with your tow vehicle make, model, and tag number. If you’re leaving from a marina, include the marina’s contact information.

Map It Out

If you’re making a fishing run out to a weather buoy, you can get the exact coordinates from the National Data Buoy Center website (www.ndbc.noaa.gov) and include those in your plan. It is not uncommon for boaters to use a sea mark like a buoy when making a run. The idea is to make it easy to find you if you run into any problems.

Remember To Check In

This is the easiest way to make sure you get help if you need it. If you are consistently late checking in as your plan describes, you run the risk of delaying help when you have a legitimate emergency. A quick call that you’ve make it to your destination or check-in spot will let everyone know that you’re okay and help send up a red flag the one time you don’t call. If you’re running late and the authorities have been alerted, make sure someone calls to let them know you’re okay. This helps them close the case and prioritize the other calls they’re working on.