8 Easy Steps: If You Run Out Of Gas At Sea
So you're having a good time at sea when you suddenly realize that you've been out too long and don't have enough gas to make it back to port... It's a simple problem, but one that occurs quite commonly. I don't think I know a single sailor who hasn't run out of gas at sea at least once in their sailing career. Heck, some downright make a habit of it and if they can get through it then so can you.
This has happened to me more than once and each time it was after a few too many drinks. It happens. This is a big reason why I don't throw back beers while playing captain anymore. It's embarrassing, but generally not a life-threatening situation. Help is out there and I promise that you will get through this, and The Better Boat is here to help you by detailing exactly what you need to do.
The most important thing is to keep your calm. Anytime you're panicking on the water you are putting lives in danger. Take a deep breath, count to 10 if it helps. Usually, my wife is aboard and she makes a fantastic confidant. I'll talk to her for a minute and she'll put me on an even keel. Keep a clear mind so that you can make rational decisions and plan out your next steps.
In the best possible case you'll have nautical charts of the area that you're boating in, a GPS device, a fully charged VHF radio, a satellite phone or at least a cell phone and charger. These are all items that could very well save your life.
Wear Your Lifejacket
If things go from bad to worse, you're going to need a lifejacket. You should always have it on, but this is a friendly reminder that now more than ever it needs to be worn and buckled. With no fuel, the sea can take you wherever it pleases. The vast majority of the time running out of fuel at sea is the extent of the problem, but you never know what else could go wrong, and like I said it's always good to have it on anyways.
Try The Radio
You should always have a VHF radio onboard and fully charged. This should be your first choice anytime you need to call for help. If you're unsure what station to call there's plenty of info at Coast Guard Navigation Center radio information. A satellite phone can also be a great boon in times like this. If you don't have a sat phone, running out of gas at sea can be a great reminder to get one. If there is a ship passing nearby, you might try getting their attention with a quick blast of a marine air horn. Emergency flares are a great idea as well if you're stranded at night.
Set The Anchor
You don't want to be carried away by the current while calling for help. Staying in one location can make it infinitely easier for your rescuers to find you. In addition, holding in one place will ensure that you don't float into any rocks or shallow water. That sort of thing that could make a bad situation worse, so drop the anchor as soon as possible and stay put.
Dress for Success
Just because one little thing went wrong doesn't mean you should let everything else fall to pieces. The best way to stay calm and collected is to stay comfortable. You might be waiting for rescue a while so dress appropriately. If you're stranded during the day apply a bit of extra sunscreen and remember to stay hydrated. It's a hell of a thing to run out of gas at sea and get burnt to a crisp. At night you'll want to keep warm and keep some sort of light source going so that rescuers or other boats can easily spot your vessel.
Staying observant is massively important at all times, but it is especially needed at times like these. While watching out for other boats is important it helps to have a bit more future vision. How far from shore are you exactly? If you've got a smaller boat and enough people you might be able to paddle in. Extendable emergency oars are wonderful to have at a time like this.
Whether you're going to attempt to paddle in or simply stay put you'll need to watch for sharp rocks and shallow waters. Finally, if you can spot any sort of landmarks it will inevitably help rescuers reach your boat that much sooner. Break out those handy binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for something that anyone familiar with the area might relate to your location.
Have A Float Plan
Anytime we talk about nautical emergencies here, I always attempt to stress the importance of a float plan. If your VHF is out for some reason and you can't get to help, the float plan is your failsafe. Provide a copy to any reliable friends or family members and rest assured that even if the worst possible scenario unfolds, someone will still be out there searching for you.
Your float plan should include your course, possible stops, how many people are aboard, along with a description of your vessel. Finally, there needs to be a time of arrival along with a 'zero hour' that outlines exactly when that chosen float plan holder should start seeking help. If you are delayed for some reason, find a way to notify the float plan holder first so they don't send the Coast Guard out there looking for nothing.