I walked past a dinghy dock recently, and noticed the various brands and type of inflatable dinghies were mostly empty. A couple had life jackets thrown on the floor last minute, several had oars, but for the most part, the crews had come ashore with little thought of safety and emergency gear. I’m not being judgmental here, as I was on Back Creek in Annapolis, and I’m sure the anchored boats were no more than swimming distance from shore if need be.
But I just read Eric Barker’s Sunday morning blog post over coffee, his latest about breaking bad habits. He quoted a Duke study where researchers found that fully 40 percent of our daily lives are on autopilot, choices based on routines and habits rather than conscious thought.
That got me thinking back to the mental images of dinghies tied up on the long floating dock on Block Island, or near the Bitter End Yacht Club, or at the small municipal dock in Misty Fjord National Monument, or on the west side of Panama among the many islands. And it seems good to float out some thoughts that where you are might dictate a bit more preparation before taking your dinghy on a three-hour tour.
Surely I don’t need to preach about having the minimal Coast Guard required equipment aboard. That much is common sense. But take it a step further. What if you lose the outboard in a rough landing in surf that was more aggressive than it appeared. What if a storm squall comes through as it did last evening in Annapolis, knocking out power and dropping a whole lot of rain amid dozens of lightning bursts all around us. Visibility went to zero in the downpour except for the lightning behind the sheets of rain causing a grey cast to the world.
I would argue that if you are out in remote territory (however you might define that), you might consider putting together a small waterproof Pelican case to throw in the dinghy before you head out for the day. It might contain the safety gear as required, including flares, but also a handheld VHF radio, perhaps a bottle of water and some granola bars, a good flashlight that works, maybe a couple of tools if you need to tweak the outboard carburetor. Not a whole lot of stuff, actually, but necessary items if you need them. You can add more, of course, such as those small emergency thermal blankets packaged about the size of playing cards. Or a first aid kit and sunscreen.
Tom Neale used to praise the value of those see-through "look" buckets with clear bottoms, to inspect your boat’s anchor, look at the bottom, even check out the fish before you throw out your line with baited hook. He kept one in his dinghy and used it often when in the tropics.
While we don’t often consider our dinghy as a suitable substitute for a lifeboat, things happen and it is always better to be prepared. That is a much better situation than being forced to gather driftwood to make smoke signals to get the attention of a passing ship.
You did bring matches, didn’t you!?!
Have a great week.