Why You Need A Float Plan
You’ve launched from the dock and are ready to take on the open seas and enjoy a day of boating fun! However, the clouds look ominous, and you begin to grow concerned that an unforeseen storm is coming your way. Just as pilots file a flight plan before taking off, boaters should file a float plan. Like flight plans, float plans help with general safety and assist with possible search-and-rescue operations if needed. Sounds pretty important, huh? Well, let’s talk about why you need a float plan.
What Exactly Is A Float Plan?
In simple terms, a float plan is a written overview of your boating trip, detailing where you are going and your estimated timeline for arrival and departure from your destination. The float plan will give authorities a head start if they need to search for you should you fail to reach your destination. In addition, a float plan gives you peace of mind, knowing that someone is looking for your return and that help is coming should something happen.
What Should A Float Plan Include?
You don’t need to budget extra hours to create the perfect float plan. However, the more specific your float plan, the easier it will be for a rescue team to find you if the need arises. While it also does not have to be a formal document, it should not be a quickly rushed one either.
Description of the vessel
The vessel information should contain important details like the boat’s size, type, and make, the color, the engine size (if your boat has one), and your boat’s identification number. Consider including a page of pictures of your vessel or sending pictures to your contact to show authorities.
Number of persons onboard
In your list of the people aboard, include their names, ages, genders, and a general description of each person. Also, list any critical medical conditions or relevant disabilities.
Destination, including the general route you will take
Add information about where you are heading, including the general route you intend to take. In addition, include information such as the name and location of the marina or launch ramp where you started.
Do not just include your contact information, but at least one or two other contacts of others aboard your boat.
Timeframe of the outing
Describe the intended itinerary in detail and provide several ways to get ahold of you or a passenger on your boat, including cell phones and VHF radio (if available). Focus on key places and times you will check in or when you plan to return.
Who Needs A Float Plan?
The short answer is anyone going out on the water. So whether you are heading down the river on a kayak for the afternoon, fishing for two days, or embarking on a multi-month sailing excursion, it is essential to write up a float plan.
If you are not the one writing your float plan, it is important to designate someone to write it before embarking on your water journey.
Why File A Float Plan?
You might think, well, I will not go out if an apparent storm is on the horizon. If I am smart about my boating trips and well prepared, I won’t ever need a float plan. While we won’t disagree, it might help to play out a few scenarios below.
You’re several miles from the shore. You just finished a great day out on the water – just you, the open ocean, and the fish. It’s time to wrap up the adventure and head home! You turn the key to start your boat’s engine so it can take you home. “Click.” Your battery is dead, and you are too far from shore to get any cell signal. Luckily, you told a friend you planned to arrive home before dark. Sadly, you realize your friend doesn’t know what kind of boat you’re on, the color, the trailer you have, or where you launched. In addition, they only know you went out fishing for the day and were planning on returning home before dark. A broad area search can hinder rescue progress. With no way of knowing where to even begin, it takes the team a longer period of time to reach you.
After an exhaustive two-day search that started in the wrong place, search and rescue finds you!
The weather forecast is clear and sunny. It is the perfect day to be out on the coast! Suddenly, a thunderstorm starts to roll in, and a huge gust produces large waves. The large waves overturn your small boat, dumping you and your daughter in the water. You have no idea where your electronics ended up. If you found them, could you even get a signal? Assuming by some miracle, they weren’t soaked. Right now, all you can really do is hold onto your hull as the sun sets and the water grows chilly. It’s Saturday, and your family only knows you “went out on the boat somewhere off the coast and will be back before dark.”
After three days of floating in the water, waiting and hoping for a rescue, search and rescue finally locate you and your daughter. You both spend several days in the hospital recovering from dehydration and the cold.
Both scenarios are common events that occur more often than one might think. In both cases, the captains could easily avoid these situations if they filed a float plan. The float plan would have shortened the distressed boaters’ time at sea and prevented unnecessary time and expense for the rescue team.
How and Where Do You File a Float Plan?
You can leave your detailed float plan with a trusted family member, reliable friend, or marina dock master. You need not file a float plan directly with the US Coast Guard before you depart. The person you give the float plan to will keep track of your journey and timeline. They will contact the Coast Guard if they cannot reach you and you are not back when you said you would be.
Always reach out to your contact if your plans change due to mechanical issues, traffic, personal preferences, or weather. So no extensive rescue embarks when you haven’t even left the dock yet.
Be clear on when they should respond. You don’t want your contact to panic if you’re a few minutes late. However, you don’t want them to delay too long if something happens and you’re treading water waiting for a rescue.
Where Can I Find the Forms to Create a Float Plan?
There are many resources to help guide you in creating a float plan. You can find an excellent resource at USCG Auxiliary Float Plan. Remember, you will not file this form with the Coast Guard. Page 3 gives a detailed guide to your contact person on the proper steps to take to notify authorities if the situation calls for it.
What Responsibilities Do I Have When I File a Float Plan?
When you file a float plan, it is your responsibility to keep your contact informed of any changes and to “close out” your float plan when you return. Never leave your contact person wondering if you returned safely.
A Few Additional Safety Tips
If you plan to embark on a more extended voyage, here are a few tips to help give you and your loved ones waiting at home peace of mind.
- Register with BoatUS Members to request a free Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI). Properly install an Automatic identification system (AIS) transponder. These transponders automatically provide the position and identification of your ship to other ships and the coastal authorities. Family and friends can plug your MMSI number into an AIS tracking website to pinpoint your location and watch your progress.
- During your trip, occasionally try texting, emailing, and calling your float plan contact person to ensure you can get through if you need to.
- Check in with your contact at arrival and departure points during a long journey with multiple legs.
Here at Rocket Marine, we care about all aspects of boat safety! This is why we build top-quality boat trailers to help you and your vessel safely arrive at the water and home again. We hope you now know why you need a float plan!
Here’s to calm waters and clear skies ahead!