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Tips that can save your life in a long Boat trip

Dangers of Long Boat Trip on open seas. 

Lot of things can go wrong, when you go for a long trip across the ocean, in Hong Kong typically people buy motor yachts and take (drive) them from Hong Kong to Philippines which is about 600 Nautical Miles. Being in this business for 21 years. I have seen a lot of things going wrong in this procedure, including people I know that lost their lives. So here are some tips, I really only wish that it could help someone and possibly could save someone’s life.

Here are some tips or things that you should understand before you think about taking a long trip that could be danger to your life.

1) Know what happens when shit hits the fan
If you get stuck for any reason, and going adrift, you have called the coast guards, and you are lucky they picked up your call and understood your accent. You think helicopter is gonna show up and a Chuck Norris type of guy is going to come and save you in few minutes? If you think so, you been watching too much Hollywood. Smack yourself and realize any sensible help will arrive 24 hours after you have made successful contact. There are 100s of human or machine errors that can happen.When have you ever had a smooth day when everything worked like it is supposed to? So why you think you are going to be a priority for the rescue team or whoever is trying to save you. Even if you are their priority, what makes you think they are perfectly capable of carrying it out or not facing any problems of their own at the time? So again, the point is, prepare for the worst case scenario. And Let me tell you what is going to happen when shit hits the fan. When you are in the open seas and cross that point of no return, something is going to happen to your engine. It could be anything, from injector problem to clogged system, overheating and shutdown.
Now you are going to need a guy who really knows how to fix things, but the open seas are not like your marina club, getting into the engine room to take things apart and repair or replace is almost an impossible task. And Many times even a repair that you know how to do, cannot be done in open seas.
You will be in a panic mode, especially when you encounter a problem that cannot be repaired on the spot, and you can’t really keep going. Your only lifeline during that time is going to be the right communication system like a radio or a satellite phone. But guess what! Most likely you will have to kiss your boat good bye. Because if any coast guard or navy is going to attempt to rescue you. They are there to rescue people, not your property. They are not going to tug your boat along. But lets say you are not in a life threatening situation but just stuck there. Still you will need someone to come and rescue you, And you will still need the coast guards. In this case, they will not dispatch their emergency vessels, But they will contact an ongoing container ship or any other commercial vessel that is near your location and arrange for that vessel to pick you up. Even if the big vessel decides to tow your boat, towing a boat in open waters will just break the boat apart or sink it. At one point you will have to let it go and let it drift away.
If you want to have any chance of getting the boat back, you will need a satellite tracker on the boat, there are cheap ones that can run on batteries for up to six weeks. Which should be enough time for you to have a tug or a salvage boat to come and take it to port.
But guess how much they charge. A salvage boat that will travel to open waters to locate and bring your boat back will cost over 12,000 USD a day. And they are not going to be in a hurry I can tell you that.

2) Have the Right Emergency Equipment
Apart from having a
 qualified Captain/crew who has taken necessary Sea Safety and Radio Courses, you have to have proper radio equipment like SSB radio, necessary spare parts and tools. Satellite Navigation equipment and AIS (Automatic identification system) are also very important. Most important is the right emergency and survival equipment like Epirb and life rafts.  During a breakdown your life depends on what survival equipment you have on board. So If you are still near civilization lets say 10 miles, you could use your Marine VHF and get help. That will be your lucky day. But if you are 300 miles away from port, in open sea where nearest port is another 300 miles. You better know how to use your navigation equipment and have a high quality Satellite phone with you. There are handheld ones, but you will wish had a better Satphone in place with an antenna on top of your boat in situation like this. Handheld GPS is also very important, because remember you are going to have to abandon ship. Weather that is on a rescue boat or on a liferaft, depends on your lucky stars. So you are still gonna need your handheld satellite phone. I know I sound pessimistic, but if you been in business for as long as I have and know people who have never been found then you will know what I mean.  Also get an EPIRB system and register it. It makes emergency calls by itself. But don’t just depend on one system. Remember when the weather is bad, and things are going down, nobody else is going to come and save you. A good liferaft that is placed in a right position and easy to deploy is going to be your life line. 

3) Don’t think you know everything!
Only if I could get a dollar every time I heard stuff like, “we owned boats, we know everything about them”. “We have done tougher boat trips than this”. “My captain is a pro, he will handle it”. Many of these guys have disappeared into the abyss. You gotta remind yourself that no matter how big your boat is, you are still a speck of dust in the vast ocean and when mother nature gets angry, it takes no time for a situation to become from a beautiful spectacle to plain deadly. So the point is. Listen to professionals, Don’t just depend on your captain, because a captain is not going to tell you his weakness. He needs his pay day. Listen to an experienced surveyor, a company who has done the journey plenty of times, or a experienced broker who points you to a right direction. Don’t depend on just one party, get multiple suggestions from experienced people.

4) Don’t do it if you got a tight budget
Yes, buying boats is a costly business, by the time a customer buys a boat, plans his cross country trip to take it back to his country, he is exhausted with paying bills. If you are in a foreign land, especially as expensive as Hong Kong, you are going to get annoyed every time you see a bill. Everything costs big money here. From few extra days in moorings, water supply, to spare parts, fuel, food and especially labor. It is mentally exhausting process if the owner of the boat is involved in day to day operation. In a middle of it all, you will realize that if you had just shipped the boat, the cost wouldn’t be too different, and when you think that, you will start to cut down cost on something that is important, like a quality life raft, Epirb System, GPS perhaps, or some work that is recommended by your surveyor. Again, nothing is cheap when it comes to taking a long boat trip.

5) Hire a professional to check the weather and don’t make close calls
It is easy to google weather trends and get general idea. But please get your surveyor (who had surveyed your boat) to double check things, you can contact a government department and also ask for help to understand the weather trends. Modern weather systems can check pretty accurately the conditions for 72 hours, But if your journey is of 2 days in open waters, and there is even a slight chance of rough weather after 5 days. Know that this is a close call, and likely this rough weather patch is going to be your killer. So wait until there is a good clear weather forecast. And of course have a weather receiver in place that can add on to the current navigation system of the boat. It is must to have a navigation system ofcourse in the boat, which includes a decent sized display screen with a chart plotter, a radar, a GPS. To add a weather receiver to that system could cost less than a 100 USD, with a small subscription fee you can receive weather updates throughout your journey.

6) Avoid most common problems
Last but not least. Note that the most common problem for engine break down is clogged systems. It could be dirty fuel. But more than that. It is just when people buy old boats. They fail to understand that after many years, there is sludge made by diesel that is collected at the bottom of the tank. When the boat is cruising in domestic waters for few hours every week, it is not a problem. But when you take the boat in deep sea and its beaten by the waves, eventually after hours of rough ride, the dirt in the fuel tank is going to get into the pipes and start to clog it. So, if you have bought a used boat and taking it across the ocean then make sure the tanks are cleaned out. It is not cheap to do it and the labour can be intensive. But it is necessary. Other problem is also dirty fuel. Some countries or some fuel companies can sell you dirty fuel for cheaper prices. There are some places in Asia that water is mixed with diesel, Many places the diesel is just outright dirty. This needs to be very carefully checked.
Sometimes the drums that you store the diesel. Also are dirty, they are reused industrial drums that need to be cleaned and dried carefully before fuel can be stored inside.

Picture of an old diesel tank

Picture of an old diesel tank

 

I hope this article can be of some use to people who are planning a long journey.

Happy Boating.
Baggy Sartape
Asia Boating Ltd (Hong Kong)