months the airwaves are filled with the chilling message of one or more persons
in difficulty or lost at sea. Inevitably
and with a sense of foreboding, the public is informed of the dispatch of ‘first
responders’, the members of the Search and Rescue (SAR).
is not about the Burton Winters tragedy, though the mere mention, of his name,
evokes a tiring sadness over the loss of one so young. Nor is it about the loss
of the Ryan’s Commander or even the role, responsibility and response time
demanded, by a sympathetic public, of SAR.
is about the role of each individual who goes out on the sea. It is about personal responsibility.
are fond of ‘calling out’ Governments, or the SAR effort, when there is even a
hint that a rescue does not begin instantly. Of course, Governments should be
made justify slow response time or poor logistics. But, strangely, that is where public debate ends. This narrative needs to change!
fishers and pleasure boaters head out on the ocean, without taking with them, the
basic tools of survival, seamanship skills or common sense.
occurs, it disappears from media focus, for reasons that are understandable;
the families need privacy and time to recover or to grieve. But, over the
years, such deference has done little to change a terribly embedded
sub-standard culture of marine safety.
The media tactfully avoids such a discussion, too; it is a reporting
mechanism. Instruction is not its
moment, one when we are not preoccupied with an immediate tragedy, (though it
has not been that way for many days), we might well ask if SAR, the various spokespersons
including police, really do anyone any favours by keeping quiet on issues of
personal responsibility. Are most of our
marine ‘incidents’ really accidents?
issues? There are a plethora of them, but some are fundamental: was a Trip Plan, recording destination and the estimated
time of return, left with a family member or other trusted person? Was the
Operator trained to handle the boat of which he is in command, whether a kayak
or a much larger vessel? Was he capable of performing in worse conditions than he
expected? Did he possess basic navigation and locator equipment; a compass, VHF
radio, a locator beacon, flares, reflectors and other such readily available
tools? Did the boat carry an adequate number
of PDFs? Was he/party wearing appropriate clothing and other basic tools of a
survival kit? Did he check weather forecasts? Was he familiar with the
practices of good seamanship?
Atlantic is a place to be feared as much as respected, whether we go out on the
sea for its economic bounty or just for sheer pleasure. The sea demands respect, else it will exact
needs to do is lurk at the entrance to Quidi Vidi, during the food fishery, to
get a first-hand view of just how few understand that the sea is relentlessly
unforgiving and that most ‘landlubbers’ are fundamentally unprepared.
boats are often a first clue as to the skills of the ‘boatsmen’, but expensive ones
are no guarantee of an Operators’ expertise.
a ‘day on the bay’ is really just amateur hour.
The only surprise is that the sea does not make a greater claim; but
then, the fact that the inshore boat fishery is all but in the past, is likely
the chief reason.
realty needs facing: while it is not the
role of SAR to ‘call out’ a delinquent party, someone, in authority, ought to. When the evidence is overwhelming, following
an incident of rescue, that authority, following a SAR Report, ought to just
call things, as they see them; discretion has simply not worked. As insensitive as it may seem, it will never
be as hurtful as the pain of a waiting family or that of a tired search party.
incident involves a youth, parental responsibility should be reviewed.
there are other ways; if so, they should be brought to the fore.
admittedly, a difficult subject. But lives
hinge on our ability to discuss this problem aloud, and not just in the coffee
shops. And, make no mistake about it, it is a big problem.
is a skillset, a vital ability to make intelligent and informed decisions. It is not intuitive, at least for most. Too
many ignore the fundamentals, especially the need to train.
age of cheap, mobile, practically miniaturized technology; VHF radio to contact
SAR or a nearby vessel, GPS for navigation, EPURB or SPOT with which to send
out an emergency locator beacon; a PFD, unless you are foolish enough to think
that your world class swimming skills really matter, after a mere few minutes
of cold water immersion. Then there is
the matter of clothes, appropriate underwear, a dry suit or a survival suit.
afford a boat, (which will deliver him into trouble), for a few
hundred dollars more, he can invest in these essential items (which, with solid
training, may keep him out of trouble).
everyone is now so internet capable, there are at least four different weather
forecasts to which a boater has access, essential confirmatory information
before leaving home.
lot an individual boater can do to keep tragedy at bay.
person’s own stupidity wastes the resources of SAR, places other people at risk
and causes his family untold grief, someone should call him out.
weekend, before you venture out, think personal responsibility. Have you done everything possible to save
your own skin as well as those for whom you are responsible?