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Passenger Briefings

It can be lots of fun to have guests on the water, but spending a few minutes showing them some things can make your trip a lot safer and more enjoyable. We’ve all seen the guests that jump off ladders and trip or spring onto the dock at the first opportunity. A few minutes showing the guests around can make the day on the water much more fun and relaxing, and may prevent injury or them driving you crazy. Following are a just a few sample questions to consider as you prepare for another season on the water:

  • Are you prepared for emergencies on the water?
  • Are your guests prepared for emergencies on the water?
  • Can your passengers handle an emergency if you are injured?
  • Do your guests know not to bug you when docking?
  • Do your guests know how to use the lav without breaking things?

Like the briefings you get on the airlines, the information ranges from safety-related to nice-to-know. From the safety point of view, take the time to show them the location of vests, throwable PFDs and fire extinguishers. Also take a minute to describe how you will react if somebody falls overboard (I like the panic buttons on the bigger ships). If there are kids, I let them know why life vests are required, and that they could save their lives if they fell overboard. Some 95% of boat-related drownings, in fact, started with somebody without a vest falling overboard.

As for an emergency, consider for a moment what would happen on the boat if you, the skipper, where injured or incapacitated. Would your spouse, children, or friends know what to do? My spouse, for example, knows that the cell phone may or may not work on the river. We have a card on the bridge listing several emergency phone numbers. On the water, however, a call to the USCG on the VHF should be first on your list for rapid assistance.

On the "Emergency Card," I have included suggestions for how to contact the Coast Guard, and I make sure that somebody besides me knows how to make the call. The CG will request your position by mile-marker, so a map and some local knowledge comes in handy. If I have somebody sitting by the helm, I casually point out where we are as we are cruising around. This would be helpful should somebody ever need that knowledge.

Last summer, I heard a communication that was interesting. A boat called the Coast Guard on Ch. 16 to report that they were drifting and couldn’t start their engine. They wanted to give their Lat/Longs, but the Coast Guard requested their position by mile marker. Unable to answer, the captain called back with his location in reference to 12-mile island. The radio operator still wanted the position in terms of mile marker. While this may have been going a little too far to make a point, it was pretty obvious that the Coast Guard wanted the exact position by reference to the mile marker on the charts.

The next thing they will want to know is the nature of the emergency and if everybody is safe. Can your vessel move under it’s own power? Is it at anchor or adrift?

Lastly, what about the nice to know stuff for your briefings? I take the time to show the guests around and let them see where things are. For kids, I show them where they can go, and what they can and cannot touch. I make sure that kids know to stay in one place once we are underway. I take it a step further and let the children know that for safety they need to listen to the captain, even if they are misbehaving and ignoring their parents. I always include the dungeon and the plank for humor! Of course, you could choose to be a curmudgeon and avoid the whole kid thing altogether.

I let people know that docking requires some concentration, sometimes much more than others. I ask that they don’t ask questions while we’re maneuvering, and that they stay seated until we come to a stop. There are always people who want to help, which is great if they know what they’re doing. To that end, I make sure that the adults and kids know what is expected of them upon arrival. For example, “you kids stay in the cabin until we’ve docked, Jim, you’ll be a big help on the bow..., and the rest of you don’t need to do anything other than stay where you are so I can get around you.”

After I show everybody around, I pick somebody responsible and demo a few extra things on the bridge. For example, I show them where I keep the charts and the "Emergency Card." I show them how to dial in 16 on the radio, and where the mic is located. Following is a modified version of the card I keep on my bridge:

EmerCard.pdf (140 K)

If you find the card useful, feel free to modify it for your own personal use. Above all, be safe, and have a great time!

-Captain Eric

Credits: Doug Ales of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, original distress call text on briefing card.


Eric Grubb
Founder, Port KY
Licensed Master

Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.

As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.

Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.





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