Sailing Tips & Tricks

How to Send a Float Plan When Sailing Offshore

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We do many things to prepare for offshore passages, but one of the most critical is notifying our VIPs of our plans. In discussions with other cruisers lately, it came to my attention that many cruisers do not file a float plan with anyone.

What is a Float Plan?

A float plan is a collection of information designed to expedite search and rescue (SAR) operations in the event of an emergency. If we sent out a distress signal or failed to check in with our emergency contacts, what would happen?

If we set off our EPIRB or InReach SOS, our emergency contact (as registered with the services of each device, Brian, David’s father) would receive a phone call. While SAR operations would continue without additional information, if Brian has the float plan readily available, he can provide emergency response teams with information the EPIRB would not be able to provide.

Alternatively, if we failed to check in with our emergency contacts, the float plan provides them with information and contacts to begin SAR coordination.

Who Should You Send a Float Plan to?

We send our float plan to our parents and other family members we want to notify. Also, we cc ourselves and our offshore email so we have a copy.

We do have designated emergency contacts for us individually. Mine is my mom and David’s is his dad. If anyone in the world knows what’s going on with us, it’s the two of them.

Float Plan Contents

Here is what we include in our float plan email. The float plan is in the body of the email, not as an attachment, so it’s easier to download to our offshore email. I have included examples of the text which is in italics. Some items are pretty self-explanatory.

Vessel Name

Starry Horizons

Vessel Description

Fountaine Pajot Helia 44 Catamaran.  44′ length and 24.3′ beam.  The vessel is white and has marine blue sunbrella trim, US flag on the stern, gray dingy on the davits.  Lettering is on bow and stern, with homeport listed as Kemah TX.

Any search and rescue operations are going to need a description of the boat they are looking for. Our emergency contacts all know where to find a photo of the boat to provide to SAR teams (our blog). If you don’t have a blog or photos posted somewhere, I suggest sending an email to your emergency contacts with the subject “[BOAT NAME] PHOTO”.

Propulsion

Primarily a sailing vessel.  Two 55 hp Volvo engines.

This is important for SAR teams to know what they (and you) are working with during an emergency. If your sails are disabled (perhaps a dismasting), do you have a backup propulsion method?

Life Raft

Viking Pro 6 Person

SAR teams would need to know what to look for in the chance that we have abandoned ship.

Read more about our liferaft and servicing it.

Safety Equipment

EPIRB registered.  The crew has personal foul weather gear and inflatable spinlock deckvests with personal AIS devices installed.  The vessel has sea anchor and drogue.

This information can give SAR personnel information about what we have to work with and what a survival scenario might look like.

Read more about man overboard equipment.

Navigation Equipment

VHF, Satellite phone, Raymarine chart plotter, Vesper AIS, radar, handheld GPS, GPS dongle for a laptop.

Many of these devices can only transmit so far. If SAR teams know that we have multiple VHFs, GPSs, and an AIS device, they can scan or broadcast using a variety of methods to locate us.

Crew Information

Name, Age, Gender, Passport Number, Emergency Contact Names, Emergency Contact Phone Numbers

Bare essential information for the crew members, and contact information for our emergency contacts. If one of us was found and needed medical attention, we have laid out who our personal contact are.

Departure Location, Date & Time

Victoria, Seychelles Thursday, September 26th, 2019 at 10 am

Anticipated Arrival Location, Date and Time

Hell-Ville, Madagascar Tuesday, September 1st, 2019 by sunset

Expected Conditions

Light winds from the east for a few days, so we may be motoring. Monday (30/9) winds will pick up a little bit and shift to SE.

Expected Path

We will start by heading directly south, hoping to make the passage over the tip of Madagascar easier by going downwind.

Alternate Destination

We will be passing the outer islands of Seychelles, and if there’s an emergency we might stop there.  It is also possible we will anchor before Hell-Ville. An update will be sent out if we stop prematurely.

Communication Plan

Our inReach will post our location every hour, automatically, on our website  https://outchasingstars.com/location/.  Emergency contacts have our Satellite phone number for calls to and from the vessel.  We will use our inReach to post on facebook and text over the passage.  

When should your land-based contacts expect a phone call or email? How often will you keep in touch to let them know everything is ok?

Our InReach allows us to post every hour (or other pre-set time frame) automatically and on a map, so anyone can see our progress.

Read about our offshore communication equipment.

Contact Information

Cruisers in Departure or Departure Location

If something happens close to either port, it’s good to have contact information for people who are on location. We’ve seen so many examples of cruisers assisting above and beyond what can be expected. Having contact information for someone who can provide help in the departure port in the case of an issue early on in the passage could be really beneficial.

Every so often on a Facebook group, I see a post “I’m looking for information on [Boat Name] that was due into [Port] on [Date]. If anyone in the area could keep an eye out and report in please.”

Having a direct contact in the destination port is a great next step. “Hi [Name], I haven’t heard from Amy and David, did they get in ok?”

Search and Rescue (SAR) at Arrival and Departure Location

If something goes wrong close to port, how does the search begin? If an EPIRB hasn’t been triggered, local authorities need to be brought in.

I find this contact information on the website SAR Contacts. While it may not always be the right office or the best person to contact, its a start.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Other Vessels on Route

We don’t always know other sailboats headed in the same direction well enough to have their at-sea contact info, but if we do, we provide that information in our float plan.

Weather Router

We don’t often us a weather router, but it’s safe to assume that if we did have one, they would be familiar with the area and routing other boats as well. We are in frequent contact with our weather router, and they’d have a relatively good idea of what the conditions are like out there.

Float Plan Template

We have a simple document checklist for our float plan. Add your own information and then email the file or copy and paste into an email and send it to your float plan people.

The USCG Float Plan is a PDF you can fill out, but it’s geared more towards coastal cruising.

What else do you include in your float plan?

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