There are many checklists that go through your mind when you’re preparing to take your yacht ‘out’, but I want to suggest that (if you don’t already have one) you create an “Alpha Checklist” for your vessel, and get in the habit of using it whenever there are passengers aboard.
What’s an Alpha Checklist? Is it the safety checklist (life vests, PLB, radios, etc.), or the mechanical checklist (engine oil check, water pump, etc.), or maybe the prep-checklist that goes through your head whenever you leave the slip (blower, plugs, scuppers, bilge, etc.)? No, it’s a seldom written vital list of important things you should say to every passenger before every voyage.
The Alpha Checklist should be shared verbally, before you leave the slip, and each passenger should know where the written checklist is so that he/she may be able to refer to it during the voyage, or if you’re ‘not available’. Some savvy yachtsman may even make copies of the checklist and distribute them, so that each passenger has a copy on their person.
The Alpha Checklist has three primary (and multiple secondary) purposes. It lets passengers know: (1) where the boat’s emergency equipment is located and how to use it, (2) how to operate the vessel, radio, and emergency beacon in the event you are incapacitated, and (3) what to do in the event of fire, flooding and hull-breach.
The emergency plan detailed in your Alpha List may include role assignments in the event of an emergency, including who’s responsible for the ditch bag and critical supplies (water, food, etc.), assignment of a person to see that everyone has a life vest and that they’re put on correctly (children first), a radio operator (who’s responsible for interacting with the Coast Guard and rescue vessels as well as operation of the vessel’s EPIRB or PLB; usually the skipper), an individual in charge of weather exposure (blankets, coats, etc.), a person responsible for role-call (how many passengers are aboard and is everyone accounted for and assembled in the proper location) and an individual charged with getting the dinghy(s) or life raft(s) stocked, untethered and ready to launch. The roles can be assigned by simple numbers (that correspond to numbered roles on your Alpha Checklist), although if there are a lot of young children it’s sometimes helpful to have ‘titles’ for each duty.
On my boat, we adopted an Alpha Checklist on the first of this year that takes about 8 minutes to present verbally from start to finish. Additionally, I keep a laminated copy in an open-faced compartment near the radio. I had always mentioned where the life vests were, how to get to the ditch bag and pointed out the fire-extinguishing equipment, etc., but now I take the time (usually while the engines are warming up) to share all pertinent info, including the basics of VHF radio operation, with every person who voyages on “Kokomo”. The result has been that passengers (often beloved family and friends) feel much better briefed on the boat’s systems and their personal safety and I feel much better in the case of the skipper becoming incapacitated.
Take the time to add an Alpha Checklist (named this because it should be presented first!) to your boat’s inventory. You never know when it’ll be necessary for your passengers to be prepared for emergencies and – one thing’s for sure – you won’t want to be in the impossible position of trying to impart these points in an emergency situation.