Float Plan – Easy as 1-2-3

File your Float Plan!

If you’ve ever wondered file it where? or with whom? Or even WHAT is a Float Plan? ….then keep on readin’ and you will see it’s easy as 1-2-3!

An airplane pilot files a flight plan with the FAA letting them know where the plane is going and when you expect to arrive among a few other details about the flight. And when the flight is complete the pilot closes out the flight plan, indicating safe arrival. Well, the boating industry is not so regulated and we do not tell the USCG, the local marine police or even our marina of our cruising plans. But for your safety’s sake someone should know.

Whenever you go boating, regardless of the size of your boat, you should TELL someone. Preferably tell someone who cares about you and will know what to do if you do not return!  So who should you tell and what should you tell them?

In the boating world we call this communication a float plan. This plan does not need to be elaborate and can be set up in advance with just a few last minute items to complete just before you cast off your lines. Someone should know

  • that you and your boat are taking a trip
  • where you are starting from
  • where you plan to go – name of port, marina or anchorage
  • how long you plan to take to get there
  • the general route you plan to take
  • who is aboard your boat – ALL names/ages, cell phone numbers including you and your guests
  • what the boat looks like including make/model, length, hull color, canvas color, cabin color, dinghy info too
  • the name of your boat
  • how to get in touch with you – cell phone or VHF
  • how to set a simple alarm/reminder for the time to expect your closure of the float plan
  • the final destination USCG/law enforcement location and phone number in case of emergency
  • that you have arrived safely and you are closing out the plan.

Almost everyone has a smart phone today so we will start with that. Take a few photos using your smart phone and keep them in an album/file for future reference. Consider that the rescue team may be looking for you from an airplane, from a boat and from land.

Write an email/text with the above information succinctly written to your contact person. This should not be the first time this person receives a note from you about being your float plan contact.

Your float plan contact should be someone who is reliable and responsible but does not have to be someone with boating experience. Discuss this important role with them long before you plan your trip so you can be sure they are agreeable to accept this job. You will send them an email with all the specifics and ask them to be alert to your trip details.

We each have a brother in two different parts of the country. They were both professional mariners and have agreed to be our contacts for a float plan. When we close out the plan we write, “Sorry but you will not be inheriting anything from us today. We cheated King Neptune again and are safely tucked into our marina at XXX location.

When your expected time of arrival comes and goes without your notification then this contact should know what to do….so what should they do? Most of the time they won’t need to do a thing but be aware of your proposed ETA.

But if you told your contact you would be in port by 5pm and it’s now 5:30pm. They have not heard from you…yet. So here are a few suggestions for your responsible contact when time has expired and you have not closed the float plan. The contact person should:

  • try calling boat owner cell phone
  • try calling any of the other people aboard
  • send a text to all cell phones aboard
  • look at the weather in the area where the boat is
  • after exhausting all attempts as above then contact the USCG/law enforcement and give them the information from the float plan including photos of boat*

*The USCG/Law enforcement should first attempt to contact the boat owner via VHF and cell phones before they decide to orchestrate a search party.

If you fail to notify your contact because you stopped to talk to a slip mate in the marina or wandered over to pay the dockmaster you DO NOT WANT your contact to send out the troops to look for you! Be sure your contact person knows their first step must be to call YOU, the boat owner!

So be a responsible boater and close out your float plan. Most often the first step gets them a positive answer when they call you on your cell phone. But don’t be surprised if your contact is a bit annoyed or short tempered with you if they actually have to call you first. If you are lucky, they were worried about your well being. Yet, you could have saved them that worry by closing out the float plan with a simple text, email or phone call.

File Your float plan. Go boating. Close your float plan. Easy as 1-2-3! Ask Captain Chris 772-205-1859