My lifejacket

Capsized boat off New Jersey coastline

The problem with small craft is that they can tip over very quickly. And if everything is well secured, the only thing supposed to come out of the boat is the crew. This means that the crew needs to be constantly prepared to face the current conditions in the water.

This is not theoretical. Two years ago I capsized in the Delaware River and was exposed to a dunking in 47 degree water and then to 54 degree air temperature with winds gusting to 30mph. My radio was underneath the boat.  Fortunately I had a cell phone in a waterproof sack around my neck. I was able to call 911 (and Wally) in order to quickly effect a rescue since I was unable to re-right my boat singlehandedly. I was rapidly approaching hypothermia by the time the Delaware City Fire/Rescue team delivered me to shore.

At the time, I was complimented by the Fire/Rescue personnel and Fish & Game Ranger for my level of preparation and forethought to have some safety gear and was wearing a lifejacket and a good spray jacket (neoprene cuffs). Furthermore they approved of my decision to stay with the boat and not swim after gear which I had failed to properly secure.

But when I personally reviewed the incident, I felt I had failed to adequately prepare Sea Dart for the conditions, failed to exercise good judgement by being out in conditions for which I was unprepared, failed to adequately dress for conditions in the water, and failed to have robust communication ability from the water in the event of capsize. If not for the cell phone, I could have been in real trouble, since darkness could easily have set before I was found.

Since then, I have extensively modified Sea Dart so that she is much less likely to capsize, and if she does, stands a better chance of being able to be re-righted by Hoa and me. That said, what we wear into the water will be probably be all we could access in a capsize emergency. Therefore, the lifejacket is an important survival tool. target=”_blank”>hypothermia kit, glow sticks, pencil flares, multi-tool, whistle, med kit, knife, emergency strobe, Camelback water system, and a VHF radio. The VHF radio has built-in GPS and “digital select calling” with an emergency transmission capability that transmits my ID and GPS location to similarly-equipped VHF radios in the vicinity (probably ten miles range if the user is in the water). In the heavily trafficked waters we will be plying, this should be sufficient. Hoa’s PLB on her lifejacket is a much more powerful emergency beacon.

Hypothermia Kits

The weather has been mild in Florida this winter, BUT, that does not predict the weather for Wally and me. Hypothermia kits are required gear for the Everglades Challenge, and the Friday before the race will be one of the items checked during a safety inspection conducted by EC veterans.

In our kits are the following: storm proof matches in watertight container which has a compass and whistle and flint strike built in. Small tent candle with two 7 hour candles, space blanket, hand warmers, glow sticks & firestarter cubes. 

PLB on Wally’s Lifejacket

PLB Mount

PLB on Wally’s Lifejacket

A PLB is a device which determines a GPS position and transmits it to an overhead satellite with much greater reliability than VHF, cell phone or SPOT transmitter. We’ve got those onboard as well, btw.
The problem was; how to mount the PLB on my wife’s inflatable lifejacket. The answer was punching a hole through the lifejacket (no easy task!) to fit a grommet which also pinned an elastic velcro strap. The strap wraps securely around the PLB to hold it in place until needed, at which time it can be activated, and the mount will hold the PLB above the water, facing the sky… Hopefully this will NEVER BE NEEDED!!

Strap wrapped around the PLB