My early boating education began at a Coast Guard Auxiliary class near Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn, New York. I remember the segment on seamanship, because the instructor opened his lecture with well-worn advice: The best way to stay safe in rough seas, he said, is to stay at the dock. The class responded with good-natured groans and eyeball rolling, but everyone knew to take the lesson seriously. Weather can go south quickly, and seas can get dangerous without warning.
And yet, there are situations when avoiding rough conditions can be difficult. Nearly every captain—professional and recreational—has a story about the time a thunderstorm or a line of squalls caught him or her unaware.
Louisa Beckett, who wrote this month’s feature on how to handle a boat in challenging conditions, is no exception. She’s braved a few rough crossings in the course of her career as a marine journalist.
“I still remember a run I took a couple of decades ago aboard a 35-foot express motoryacht from Miami to Bimini in the Bahamas on a sea trial,” she says. “As we were crossing the Gulf Stream, the seas unexpectedly kicked up to 8-plus feet on the nose. While I concentrated on driving up and down the steep waves, the boat dealer who was with me went down below and came up with a box, which he put on the seat between us. At the end of the trip, he admitted the box held an EPIRB.” To research her feature, Louisa interviewed a few professional sportfishing captains, who often encounter sloppy seas in their quest to battle big game.
They tap their real-world experience when offering tips on how to cope when you’re caught off guard. They, too, acknowledge that even the most well-prepared and cautious skippers can get into trouble offshore.
Fortunately, there are dedicated professionals and volunteers who make it their business to get boaters out of trouble and back home. Among them are the members of the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue. Soundings Executive Editor Pim Van Hemmen reports on this government-supported charitable organization that, in his words, “saves a boater’s bacon if the engine quits or the bilge catches fire.” To do the research, Pim traveled to Tromso, Norway, where he boarded a rescue boat located about 240 miles above the Arctic Circle.
“I’ve done my fair share of boating over the past 57 years, but going on patrol with the RS was special,” Pim says. “The scenery alone was hard to beat, but it was the crew’s skill set that blew me away. They’re not just master mariners who operate in cold and dangerous waters under sometimes horrific conditions. They’re also mechanics, firefighters, divers, EMTs and tugboat operators. It explains how the Vikings crossed the ocean in their longships. Norwegians are tough.”
Fortunately, I’ve never needed the help of a rescue team on the water, but like you, I take comfort in knowing these competent professionals are out there keeping watch. They’re just one more reason why I love boating.
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue.