Preparedness Done Right

Do you know what to do--and how to do it--if an emergency arises?

The weekend weather forecast called for gusty winds — 35 knots or more — and rain showers, but the diehard members of NOTS Boating Club were not about to let a little Oregon spring weather stop them from having a gathering. The club is known for being a “cruising” club, going out most years on more than 20 weekend cruises, and this was typical weather for many of the off-season ones. As was typical, a fleet of 10 to 15 boats was expected to attend this cruise.

Cliff and Betty Echols decided to go a day early to the club’s cruise destination on the Columbia River at St. Helens, Ore. When they arrived in their 42-foot Ocean Alexander, Sunny Beach II, at the St. Helens city dock, the only other boats tied there were a couple of sailboats. Cliff maneuvered Sunny Beach II for a side-tie on the opposite side of the dock from the sailboats. After securing the lines to the dock in preparation of the gusting winds, the couple settled in with a good book and hot coffee.

As the winds began to increase, Cliff glanced out the salon window from time to time. He noticed that the wind had loosened a furled sail on one of the sailboats and it was fl apping severely in the wind. About that time, a man came from below to the deck of the sailboat and began securing the fl apping sail. Cliff looked back to his book for a few moments, and when he once again looked at the sailboat, the man was lying on the deck between the boat’s cabin and the rail with his legs still up on the top of the cabin.

Cliff immediately sprang to his feet and ran from his boat to assist the man on the sailboat. The man was unconscious. Cliff checked for a pulse, found none. He instructed Betty to call 911 and began CPR. At this time, another man came from the other sailboat and began mouth to mouth while Cliff continued CPR. The men continued until the paramedics arrived a few minutes later and rushed the unconscious sailor to the hospital.

We see and hear stories of such heroics regularly on TV and on the internet. Courageous people save others who have had medical problems, fallen in the water, or been injured in some other way and need assistance.

Are you prepared for when you are faced with the challenge of providing assistance? It isn’t a matter of “if” as much as it is “when.” Every day, someone has a heart attack, falls in the water or has another kind of accident. It may be a total stranger or it may be your spouse, your child or your friend who needs assistance. Will you be ready and able to help? With a little time and a minimal amount of expense, you can increase your “preparedness level,” so you and your boat can be of assistance should the need arise.

Cliff and Betty had attended a Red Cross first aid class hosted by the NOTS Boating Club. They and 35 other club members were taught first aid procedures that included CPR training and instructions on the use of AEDs. Classes in first aid, CPR and AED are offered by the Red Cross. You can take the classes in person or online, and they are offered in numerous locations and during times that fit most peoples’ schedule. The cost is minimal, and group rates are even lower. Organize your friends and take the class together. For more information, contact the Red Cross at or (800) 567-1483.

First aid kits come in a wide variety of configurations. Depending on your cruising area and the size of your crew, kits can be priced as little as $30 for a starter kit, or up over several hundred dollars for an offshore kit for several crew members.

According to the American Heart Association, prompt use of an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) can increase one’s chances of surviving cardiac arrest by 70 percent. The chance of survival decreases 7 to 10 percent for every minute that passes before an AED is used. It is estimated if AED use were widespread, more than 40,000 lives could be saved each year in the United States. Units cost about $1,000, but that’s a low price to pay to save someone’s life. A group purchase is a great way to spread the cost.

Have your onboard throw line and rings readily available. They won’t do much good stowed in the lazarette behind the folding chairs. We recently purchased a self-inflating rescue baton that we hang behind our ladder on the aft deck. The baton works much like an inflatable life vest. A rescuer can throw it near a person in the water, and when the baton enters the water a CO2 cartridge inflates it into a 30-inch horseshoe-shaped life ring. The big advantage is being able to throw it farther than a traditional throw ring or bag, and with more accuracy.

Have a procedure for contacting help via radio and/or telephone. Assign a couple of people on the crew to be the callers and teach them the proper procedure for making a distress call on the VHF radio. Make sure your boat’s information is posted by the radio, along with phone numbers for local fire, police and medical assistance. Keep in mind, a mayday call on a VHF reaches many people, a cellphone call reaches one.

At NOTS Boating Club, safety is an integral part of the club’s cruises. In addition to most captains or regular crew members being trained in first aid, CPR and AED use, whenever the club cruises, a designated boat carries at least one first aid kit, an AED and oxygen. The designated boat is identified with a first aid f lag and an AED sign on its dockside rail. The club also has safety buckets placed along the dock. These white buckets, with ref lective bands and red crosses on the outside, contain a fire extinguisher, a throw line, an inf lating life-ring baton, a whistle and an air horn. Whenever the club is gathered at a dock, they have a dinghy in the water, fueled and ready to go to the assistance of someone who has fallen in.

In addition to cruise safety, the club also includes continuing education at its monthly meetings, which ranges from demonstrations on life vests to practicing water rescues and from fire extinguisher use to a flare shoot, where members can learn how to light and use safety flares.

While most people do not want to be put in the position of being a rescuer, the members of NOTS Boating Club say they find it comforting to have the skills and knowledge to fill that role until help arrives. Just ask Cliff Echols.

When it’s time to make a call for help on the water, someone on board should know the proper procedure. Here’s a step-by-step mayday call from the U.S. Coast Guard.
• If you have a VHF marine radio, tune it to Channel 16. Unless you know you are outside VHF range of shore and ships, call on Channel 16 first.
• Distress signal “MAYDAY,” spoken three times.
• The words “THIS IS,” spoken once.
• Name of vessel in distress (spoken three times) and call sign or boat registration number, spoken once.
• Repeat “MAYDAY” and name of vessel, spoken once.
• Give position of vessel by latitude or longitude or by bearing (true or magnetic, state which) and distance to a well-known landmark such as a navigational aid or small island, or in any terms that will assist a responding station in locating the vessel in distress. Include any information on vessel movement such as course, speed and destination.
• Nature of distress (sinking, fire, etc.).
• Kind of assistance desired.
• Number of persons on board.
• Any other information that might facilitate rescue, such as length or tonnage of vessel, number of persons needing medical attention, color hull, cabin, masks, etc.
• The word “OVER.”
• Stay by the radio if possible.

Here’s an example of those instructions in action:
• Mayday-mayday-mayday
• This is Blue Duck-Blue Duck-Blue Duck wa1234 mayday this is Blue Duck
• Cape Henry Light bears 185 degrees
magnetic-distance 2 miles
• Struck submerged object
• Need pumps-medical assistance and tow
• Three adults, two children on board
• One person compound fracture of arm
• Estimate can remain afloat two hours
• Blue Duck is 32- foot cabin cruiser-white hull-blue deckhouse
• Over Repeat at intervals until an answer is received.

According to the Red Cross (, here are the steps to take before and during CPR.

Before Giving CPR
• Check the scene and the person. Make sure the scene is safe, then tap the person on the shoulder and shout “Are you OK?” to ensure that the person needs help.
• Call 911 for assistance. If it’s evident that the person needs help, call (or ask a bystander to call) 911, then send someone to get an AED, if one is available.
• Open the airway. With the person lying on his or her back, tilt the head back slightly to lift the chin.
• Check for breathing. Listen carefully, for no more than 10 seconds, for sounds of breathing. (Occasional gasping sounds do not equate to breathing.) If there is no breathing begin CPR.

Red Cross CPR Steps
1. Push hard, push fast. Place your hands, one on top of the other, in the middle of the chest. Use your body weight to help you administer compressions that are at least 2 inches deep and delivered at a rate of at least 100 compressions per minute.

2. Deliver rescue breaths. With the person’s head tilted back slightly and the chin lifted, pinch the nose shut and place your mouth over the person’s mouth to make a complete seal. Blow into the person’s mouth to make the chest rise. Deliver two rescue breaths, then continue compressions.Note: If the chest does not rise with the initial rescue breath, re-tilt the head before delivering the second breath. If the chest doesn’t rise with the second breath, the person may be choking. After each subsequent set of 100 chest compressions, and before attempting breaths, look for an object and, if seen, remove it.

3. Continue CPR steps. Keep performing cycles of chest compressions and breathing until the person exhibits signs of life, such as breathing, an AED becomes available, or EMS or a trained medical responder arrives on scene. Note: End the cycles if the scene becomes unsafe or you cannot continue performing CPR due to exhaustion.