“Dot.calm” by Jane Silverman, Member Since 2012
“Mayday, mayday.” I held tight to the VHF handset and breathlessly repeated “Mayday, mayday… this is the vessel Magic Moments, a 73’ white motor yacht on fire with two adults and two dogs aboard preparing to abandon ship. Our coordinates are…”
It seemed like an ordinary day as we traveled at a leisurely 10kts under a gray bruised sky from Miami Beach back to Ocean Reef. Hurricane Dorian was spinning ever closer towards the Florida Coast and all the Miami area marinas were in evacuation mode. As we cruised, we could see other boats also heading south towards calmer seas.
Sometimes we all have a moment in time that is frozen like a photograph in our minds. For me, it was when our engines shut down and I slowly turned from the helm on the bridge to see a large dark black wall of choking smoke looming over my shoulder. “This is not a drill” flashed through my mind as I grabbed my PFD and quickly slipped our two Portuguese Water Dogs’ life vests over their heads and attached their leashes.
Mike was in the pilot house investigating the scent of what was to come when the engines
shut down. He unsuccessfully tried to drop the anchor as the boat began to roll from side to side and he engaged the engine room’s manual sprinkler system in case the automatic control wasn’t working. I rushed the dogs to the bow of the boat and left them as we both repeated the distress calls and grabbed our phones and wallets.
Abandoning ship was the only option as time moved in slow motion and we hoped the boat would not explode. Just then “our hero” arrived – a Good Samaritan who saw the smoke before we did and rushed to our side, maneuvering so we could precariously transfer one by one onto his bobbing 43’ Freeman. We watched in shock as a Miami Dade Fire Boat boarded the ship and a helicopter buzzed overhead. It all happened so quickly.
With the fire extinguished and the hurricane threatening our waters, Towboat US sent two boats to slowly transport our boat behind our Sunset Cay Road home. Be sure and download the BoatUS app boatus.com, which pinpoints your location when opened to quickly dispatch assistance 24/7 near 300 ports nationwide. The app is great for hurricane alerts, nearby tides, weather, boat services, buoy coordinates and for quickly summoning help for even minor issues like running out of gas or needing oil (been there, done that, too).
Seas the Day:
Our valuable lesson learned? What NOT to do if there is a next time. And a big thank you to Captain Peter Liashek and the Ocean Reef Auxiliary Coast Guard Flotilla 13-4’s Suddenly in Command class, which taught me the correct format for a distress call (who knew?) and to stay calm and be prepared. As a life-long boater and the daughter of a former Flotilla 13-4 Commander, I can tell you that “red-right-return” will only go so far. If you are a boater or significant other or friend of a boater, be sure and sign up for the USCGA’s free class on April 10 during their annual Boating Safety Week to learn how to use the VHF to call for help, read the coordinates of your location, flare usage, and more. Because you never know. For more info contact Capt. Pete Liashek email@example.com.
The United States Coast Guard app uscgboating.org is an incredibly helpful app to have. It provides state boating info, Rules of the Road, emergency assistance, and lets you file a float plan to share your travels with friends and family. You can conveniently report hazards or pollution and report suspicious activity. Best of all, you can request Safety Checks of your vessel (or just call Pete). For boats under 65’, it has a handy list of required safety equipment (like the number of throwable devices, life jackets, fire extinguishers, etc.).
When our electronics went down after a power surge in the Bahamas (what a summer!), it was a relief to have the Navionics Marine and Lakes app navionics.com on our phone with detailed charts, AIS, weather and tides, Active Captain insiders info, and routing options to use with or without internet or cellular service. Money well-spent!
As we cruised back into US waters from the Bahamas, we cleared customs through the Customs & Border Patrol CBP ROAM app cbp.gov, which allows pleasure boaters to report their arrival online and clear customs with a video chat on your phone with a CBP Officer. So easy.
Last but Naut Least:
In case you are wondering, the term “Mayday” for an international distress call was the idea of Frederick Mockford, a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London. He thought it sounded like the French word m’aider, which means “help me.” The United States adopted Mayday as the official radiotelegraph distress signal in 1927.
If you have a favorite app or website you would like to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.