The Importance of Shore Support on Passage

Author:
Publish date:
Your shore support person should be  familiar with your  communications devices

Your shore support person should be familiar with your communications devices

Much has been said and written about preparing your vessel for an offshore passage, but few think about the importance of having good shoreside support set up before heading out to sea. Almost all offshore racing teams have sophisticated onshore support teams providing them with weather routing, sea conditions and critical equipment data to keep the boat running smoothly. Granted, few cruisers have the same resources available, but all it takes to get a degree of shoreside support is some pre-planning and the right communications equipment.

A land-based support team, for example, can supply weather information, assist with repairs by providing technical data, relay progress information to loved ones and help pass on information in the event of an emergency. For the average cruising sailor, this support is typically provided by family and friends.

A word of warning, though: the folks left back at the dock will most likely not have all the knowledge and experience needed to help. The average landlubber can’t be expected to handle the intricacies of weather forecasting and how to deal with an emergency. Even if your shore support aides are experienced sailors, they are not likely to have all the expertise that may be needed. Should a real emergency arise, friends or relatives may not react well because of worry. This is why it is so important to leave a comprehensive list of contacts and emergency numbers they can draw on.

PICK YOUR BACKUP

The first thing to do is to choose your main contact. He or she should have both the time to gather routine information and the ability to get it to you when needed. This person must be able to keep calm and organized in an emergency and be familiar with any communication methods that might be employed. It is important to have a backup contact with the same skills as your lead person.

Be sure to provide your helpers with lists of emergency contacts and professionals with weather, medical and mechanical skills who could be called on in an emergency.

Once your support team is selected you will need a full contact list for all crew onboard. For couples, make sure the information includes both families. Ask your crew to forward your contact information to their loved ones too.

Next, write a description of your vessel—make, size, hull color, number of masts, canvas colors and so on, along with documentation and/or registration numbers, dinghy type, etc. List all communications equipment, along with call signs, MMSI number and registration numbers for EPIRBs and PLBs.

THE CONTACT LIST

First on the list of contacts would be the Coast Guard and other rescue agencies. Try to provide a list of phone numbers that connect directly to actual humans rather than bots. This pre-research could save valuable time.

Next, try to add a medical professional to your contact list. If your personal doctor is unwilling or unable to help, look for a local physician or EMT who is a sailor—perhaps a member of your local yacht club. Medical emergencies often need to be handled quickly so it’s important to be able to get in touch with the right person without wasting time. Do not forget to have a dentist on the list and, if you have pets aboard, a veterinarian too.

If you are using a private satellite service such as SPOT or InReach, make sure their emergency numbers are up to date and available. These private services cannot do anything but forward information to a government SAR (Search And Rescue) operation. This is why it is important to have the government contact numbers first and foremost. You will also want your shore support to have access to online tracking maps, and tell them how to get latitude and longitude from the tracker.

After that, the next thing to have at the ready is a list of weather sources. Your contact person does not have to be a weather guru, but knowing where to get the right weather information to pass along can be just as important. Often, just relaying a weather forecast will be enough to allow the skipper to make the right decisions. If you subscribe to paid weather services, make sure your support has their information even if you will be receiving information directly from them.

If you know specialists, like marine mechanics, riggers and other boat repair technicians, add them to the contact list. Don’t be afraid to solicit help from boatyard staff or others you might work with while getting ready for your voyage, and ask if they would be willing to be a contact and help in an emergency. You will be surprised at how often these folks will be flattered that you asked. Should you have a failure at sea, experts like these can often give you valuable suggestions and advice for repairs.

COMMUNICATIONS

Of course, all these contacts will be of little help if you do not have a good method of communication between you and land. There are really only two ways to contact a vessel offshore these days—by satellite or by radio. Radio will consist of cell phone, VHF and SSB. Cell phone and VHF are limited to 10 or 20 miles offshore, while marine SSB will reach across oceans. Likewise, satellite can be worldwide. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into all the communication devices available, but whatever you select, make sure your support team knows how to get in touch with you.

If you are using a satellite phone or data transmitter, make sure your shore support has the ability to add minutes to your account. You don’t want to the phone cut off at a critical time because you’ve used-up all your prepaid minutes.

SSB is a bit trickier, unless your main contact is an amateur radio operator. With this in mind it may be best to find a contact from a local amateur radio club. Club members generally really like to help with things like an offshore passage and can even provide phone patches to land phones. Most radio amateurs are trained to deal with emergencies and can often provide relays should contact become difficult.

Finally, do not forget to have a complete float plan available. Should all contact be lost between the boat and land, an up-to-date plan can help should you be overdue for arrival. A good float plan should also include a thorough description of the vessel along with information about those aboard as well as planned and possible routes to be taken.

You do not need an expensive shoreside support team to stay safe at sea. A few friends and family will do. However, it’s vital that you take the time to teach them what to do and where to find the information they might need to help you. Not only will this keep you and your crew safer, but being able to share your experiences with those left on land can make your trip more interesting and fun. 

February 2020

Related

DawnRileyforSAILmagazine

An Interview with Sailor Dawn Riley

The 2019 sailing documentary Maiden received rave reviews as a human-interest story that featured excellent racing footage and the heartfelt recollections of an all-female team led by then 25-year-old Briton Tracy Edwards. During the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race, ...read more

IMG_9978

Charter: More for Your Money

Though summer may not be when you typically think of escaping to a tropical island, it could, in fact, be the perfect time for a charter holiday. Despite popular perception, the Caribbean isn’t hot as Hades during summer. In fact, the highs vary by only about 8 degrees F ...read more

Riley-and-Elayna,-Sailing-La-Vagabonde

Sailing in the YouTube Era

At the risk of both dating myself and being accused of gross hyperbole, I will say this: it was a bit like 1964 when the Beatles first landed in New York. What I’m referring to is last fall’s U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. Playing the role of the Beatles were not one, but two ...read more

Bill-Hatfield-copy-1024x665

Cruising: Solo Circumnavigators

There seems to be no age limit for solo-circumnavigators. Not so long ago we had Californian Jeff Hartjoy set a record for the oldest American to sail around the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted, at the age of 70. A few months ago, 77-year-old Briton Jeanne Socrates became the ...read more

bookrev

Book Review: One-Pot Wonders

James Barber Harbour Publishing, $14.95 I’ll bet a filet mignon against a can of Dinty Moore that almost every cruising cook has read and discarded a goodly number of seagoing recipe books. Some are so simple as to be insulting. Others require too many exotic and perishable ...read more

_DSC7508

A Great Lakes Sailor Rediscovers Cruising

It had been seven years since I’d taken my Westsail 32, Antares, out for more than an afternoon day sail. Such is the reality when taking care of an elderly parent. However, a year ago my dad passed away at the age of 100, and after we sold the family home, I found myself living ...read more

45191357

New Boats: Hinckley Sou’wester 53

The history of sailing is replete with examples of boats being repurposed after their initial launch—think of the famed yacht America also doing service as a blockade runner in the Civil War. Rarely, though, has an updated design done half so well as the Hinckley Bermuda 50’s ...read more