Thursday, 2 February 2012

On Manoeuvres (6)

This is one of an occasional series of tips about manoeuvring a narrow-boat on the canals and rivers. There may be other ways to achieve the same result. However, the method has been devised or adapted by me using trial and error. (Trial and Error are two of my regular boating companions) Our boat is 50 feet long and has a keel depth of twenty five inches and weighs in at a tad over eighteen tons. The techniques described are intended to help new comers to boating.

Every boat should have a properly stocked First Aid Kit. Not all accidents are major but any graze of cut however small will need to be cleaned and sterilised because of the risk of infection. Remember to check the First Aid Kit once a year for expired items.  Most Antiseptic items have expiration dates.

As in any waterways activity there is always danger. Being prepared and focused on safety bodes well in any activity. The chance of being involved in a boating accident is higher when alcohol is involved. Don't drink and drive your boat, wait until you are moored up for the day.

Staying safe on the water is important. Boating is usually a very safe and enjoyable summer activity, but without understanding safety issues, accidents can happen. Its hard to talk about boating issues without some reference to Personal Safety. You will in your boating career, at some point fall into the water. Some people will do it several times. I am on 3 dips and the Memsahib is on 2 dips - so far! I did it in the summer months, she did it in February through the ice however the water was quite shallow and she could stand chest deep in the water. The important thing is knowing what you will do, if and when it happens. The second most important thing is to learn from the experience.

You need to give some thought to personal safety and you need to explore the "what ifs" in your mind. What ifs are when you think about what could happen and what you will do if it does. If you have regular crew members, you might discuss what they should do in a particular circumstance. Maybe a "man overboard" routine could be a good starting point. There are things that the person in the water should automatically do and things that people on board should automatically do.

Whenever we have guests on board for the first time, I always welcome them first and then move onto a little chat about our basic safety rules. If they are aboard to gain some boating experience then safety issues often help with understanding.

If you are cruising on a river, a lightweight automatically inflating life vest is a must. Select a vest that is intended for your weight range. Get into the habit of wearing it at all times that the boat is under power. Like a seat belt in a car, it will become second nature to put it on. Furthermore you will start to feel uncomfortable in charge of the boat when not wearing it.

Never, ever be in a hurry. The speed of travel on our canals prevent any likelihood of hurrying along anyway. Never let anyone else who might be waiting pressurise you into cutting corners. Never accept proffered assistance from anyone you don't know. Only accept assistance if you are confident that the person has sufficient knowledge and experience not to create any additional danger. Always seek advice and heed the warnings from any lock keeper who may be operating the locks.
Tip: 1 Never be afraid to seek assistance or advice from a fellow boater. Most boaters are only to happy to help. They remember their first days as a new boater on the canals.

Something you might want to consider is what you will do if you fall overboard. You must swim or even walk away from the boat, some canals are actually quite shallow. Get clear of the boat is the first action to take. You must try to avoid getting between the boat and any other obstacles such as the bank or any other boats. You must keep well clear of the back or stern of the boat if the engine is running. You must get yourself to a place of safety before considering any other options.

NOTE: NEVER under any circumstances should anyone else go into the water to try and rescue someone. You will only create a second casualty that also needs to be rescued. From the boat or from the bank lend your assistance in any way you can. Use the lifebelt or any other buoyancy aid that is to hand. But never enter the water yourself. Even keeping an eye on the person in the water and constantly pointing at the position where they are, will help other crew to organise a rescue.

A typical narrow boat is very heavy and can easily crush you. The wind can cause a boat to move with surprising speed as can any current in the water. However, your main threat is posed by the propeller if the engine is running. Some boat propellers continue to turn even when the boat is in neutral gear.

Think about how you will you get back on board.

The circumstances of your location will dictate the best method of regaining the boat. However, the hardest place to get back on-board a boat without assistance, is from the water. Think about trying to climb out onto the side of a swimming pool. Now think about it wearing saturated clothing and then climbing out of the pool. However, it is easiest wherever possible to get back aboard from the bank.

If the only place that you can get back on board is from the water.  Remember, it is practically impossible without assistance to climb aboard a narrow boat from the side via the gunwale.

If the engine is not running and the only place that you can get back on board is from the water. You could approach the back of the boat. We have a short knotted rope left permanently hanging over the side from a dolly. This rope will let you gain some additional grip. Then using the tiller arm the button fender and the rudder as a step, pull yourself from the water. Some narrow boats like ours also have a small step welded directly to the hull at the back to help you climb back aboard.

Crew members on board should instantly put the boat engine into neutral, then deploy the lifebelt towards the person in the water. Then get ready to assist the person to come back on board. The lifebelt should always be within easy reach on the boat roof when cruising. When deploying the life belt, remember to hang on to the end of the rope to assist the person in the water to reach the boat.

We have regular dog overboard issues as we have two terriers travelling with us. The dogs love the water for which they have no fear. They each have a life vest which will give them extra buoyancy in the water. The life vests have a carrying handle which makes it easy to get them on and off the boat. The carrying handle also makes it easy to snag them with the boat hook from the water. Its a bit like hook-a-duck at the fairground. A boat hook can be used to give assistance to someone in the water or to hook clothing if they are unconscious.


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