No matter how well prepared or planned, emergencies will happen.
The question is how you recover.

Coast Guard, sheriff, others will want to know:

1. NUMBER OF PEOPLE (BOATS). Type and color of boats.

2. POSITION. Both lat/long and geographic or last known location.


Prior to your call you need to have thought out or already evaluated at least the following:

  • Medical conditions of all.
  • What emergency equipment you have on hand.
  • What communications equipment, radios, cell phones.
  • What survival equipment, food, water, gear.
  • Ability to maintain position: drift and set.
  • Departure point, destination point, planned stops, ETD/ETA, prospective course.
  • On-scene weather: wind direction, current, weather, seas, visibility.
  • Shore based contacts, roles, and experience.
  • Car registration numbers and location.
  • Record keeping and statements to others.
  • Keep a running log of all that is going on, including: when, where, who, what, and why.
  • Generally do not speak to press, third persons, or non-involved others unless calculated and necessary for resolution. Outside people will often only complicate the sheriff, Coast Guard and other's performances by possibly spreading inaccurate information.

Secure any existing group safely for the duration with adequate supervision/leadership

Assess severity of problem - judgment, equipment and skills of the victims

Assess probable area, project probably locations & victims probable strategy

Hasty search?

Begin search from last known location and sweep on projected courses/routes with due regard for wind, waves, and tidal currents.

Remember: Protect the remainder of the group first, then protect yourself, then your partner, then the victim.

As a victim know that air searches will often be by parallel sweeps towards and away from sun. Try and anticipate where plane will next be 


Most helicopters will require at least an 80-foot clearing. They will want to come up into the wind (within 15 degrees) on landing and takeoff, so think of their route into the proposed landing zone. LZ should be relatively flat for at least a 20 ft area, firm and free of loose materials. Mark with an H pattern. Use smoke so they will know direction and strength of wind - but not across LZ. Mark wind direction with T with horizontal bar placed up wind, or stand on downwind side of LZ with your arms outstretched and with back to wind. If using lights do not blind pilot. Never approach from the rear, never approach down a hill or grade.

If a winch is being lowered let it touch the ground to discharge electric shock. Place horse collar, litter or straps securely under your armpits, and arms then firmly down at your side. Make no signals other than thumbs up or down. Usually will be a rescue person on the tether line, or a swimmer in the water.

Gulf of Maine Coast Guard uses "Jayhawks" for choppers (cruising speed of 130 knots) and "Guardian" for plane (cruising speed of 280 knots).


"Never leave your ship until it leaves you.”

Abandon or sea anchor?

When, if ever, would you consider abandoning?

Coast Guard's 50-50 Rule.

  • Distress call.
  • Take what you need, particularly hypothermia gear.
  • Attitude, faith, perseverance. Your will is best tool.
  • Positive thinking.
  • Delegate duties and responsibilites. Convey feelings of acceptance to all. Avoid dissension.
  • Establish goals and establish routines.
  • If in the water:
  1. use your survival bag.
  2. huddle together.
  3. swim slowly and steadily.
  4. use any flotation “bags".
  • Tent.
  • Bivy bag.
  • Boat shelter.
  • Spare clothing bag.
  • Logs, rocks, dunes.

Survival is 9/10s attitude!