Photo courtesy of Grady-White Boats.
Exactly what is a float plan? you ask. In its simplest form the purpose of a float plan is to provide a brief description that lets someone responsible know where you’ll be headed and when you’ll get home from your latest adventure on the water. That gives friends, family members, a local Sea Tow captain – or even local authorities – an idea of where you might be should you not return when expected and can’t be raised by VHF radio or mobile phone. In short, it provides a basic course to follow should they deem it necessary to head out on a search.
While it’s easy to simply tell a responsible family member, fishing buddy or marina staff where you’re headed and when you’ll return, writing things down really helps fill in a lot of key details. That’s especially important if you’re covering a lot of water, heading out on an overnight trip, taking an extended cruise or traversing international waters. The further you go, the more detail you’ll want to provide.
It’s All About The W’s.
Keep in mind that the more information you put in your float plan, the easier it will be for searchers or rescuers to track you down. Thus, it helps if you think in terms of W’s when putting together a float plan. When are you leaving and returning? Where are you headed? Where might you stop? Why are you going? Who will be on board? What color, make and size is your boat?
Anyone can create a float plan from kayak paddlers, jet ski operators, inshore anglers, local cruisers and day-trippers to offshore sailors, those pursuing big game in the deep, and crews aboard luxury yachts heading to awesome vacation destinations. No matter where you point the bow or how long you plan to be away, though, you’ll want to cover all the basics before filing a float plan. At the very least, you’ll want to include:
- Size, make and model of your vessel and engine
- Number of persons onboard
- Destination and activities planned
- Expected course
- Contact information
- Timeframe of the outing
- Local Coast Guard number
For extended trips, especially offshore or traversing international waters, consider adding:
- Your vessel’s registration number
- Your vehicle’s license plate number (if left at the marina or dock).
- Names, ages and phone numbers for all aboard
- Medical conditions or notable disabilities of crew and passengers
- Contact info and times for places where you can be contacted in route to your destination
Filing A Float Plan
As noted, you’ll want to file your float plan with someone who is fairly responsible, especially considering your safety could hang in the balance should something go wrong. It’s a good idea to come to an agreement about how long to wait before a call for aid should be placed if you are overdue without having checked in. Ten minutes late probably doesn’t warrant a call for help. A half-hour or an hour, and it might be a good idea based on the circumstances (say a calm sunny day vs an unsuspected squall or thunderstorm.) Following that vein of thought, do make sure to reach out if you alter plans, encounter engine trouble or simply fall behind schedule.
Those on smaller and mid-sized vessels planning to fish, sail or cruise familiar local waters tend to file informal float plans on a slip of paper, via text, social media messaging or even email. For something more formal, consider downloading a pre-designed U.S. Coast Guard Float Plan PDF fillable form from the U.S. Coast Guard Boating web page. It’s free and you can fill out the things that never change such as your name, vessel make and model. Save that data to the page before downloading then keep it as a template. The whole process takes only a couple of minutes and saves time in the long run.
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