Lead Line — September 2002
By Richard Thiel
|To many, our vessel is an alien environment.|
I'd like to thank Arnie and Anne Marie Pomerinke of Seattle, Washington, for inspiring me to write this column. I received their letter to "Mail Drop" last summer right after I'd taken a cruise on a friend's boat, and had it not been for their missive, I might never have recognized a bit of bad behavior I'd just witnessed and participated in.
The cruise had taken place on a flawless late-June day with clouds neither in sight nor predicted. I'd brought along a friend who'd never been on a powerboat to show her what we do at its best and most carefree. She, thinking boating was like this every day, was impressed, to say the least. We'd cleared the dock, and as the owner navigated us through the serpentine no-wake zone, I gave my friend a primer on the important stuff: the boat's size, age, and power, and what kind of performance she was capable of. She responded with questions about how far the boat could go, how much fuel it used, and what a boat like this might cost.
We were well clear of the restricted zone and up on plane when she asked the question: "Does this boat have life jackets?" "Of course," I exclaimed, more than a little embarrassed. "John keeps them right there, under that cushion." And no more was said of the matter until the next day when my friend said laughingly, "You know, I've never seen one of those things (a PFD) before. I wouldn't have the slightest idea of how to use one."
I'm sure you're well aware that John and I had committed an egregious act of boating safety by not only not telling her where the PFDs were but actually not showing her how to don one. (I never did check to see if they were there or how many there were.) I don't think we're alone. I've been on plenty of boats, and can remember few owners going through any sort of familiarization regimen with me. Or if they have, it's been on the order of, "The PFDs are over there." Little wonder. Boating is about fun, and the last thing any owner wants to do is rain on his guests' parade by discussing a downer like sinking. But we all know that the worst time to explain to guests what they should do in an emergency is during an actual emergency.
I was thinking about this the Monday after my cruise when the Pomerinkes' letter arrived on my desk. It was short, well-written, and to the point: "Enclosed is a set of rules that my wife and I, over the years, have developed for people, nonboaters usually, that we have on the boat for the first time. We tried to make it light-hearted but firm and informative enough to educate visitors without offending. We hope you can use it."
Lack of space prevents me from quoting the entire page, but it's pretty exhaustive, covering everything from urging passengers to hold on at all times, how to use the MSD, how to care for children (they must always wear PFDs), and why guests need to pick up after themselves. My favorite is, "Please help only if asked." How many of us have witnessed a greenhorn try to turn his or her body into a fender as our multithousand-pound cruiser drifts down on a piling?
The Pomerinkes' letter made me realize that failing to familiarize guests with our boats isn't only a safety violation, it's bad manners. We often forget that to many people, our comfy vessel is an alien environment, and to invite anyone onboard without a brief orientation is simply rude. You may not want to go as far as Arnie and Ann Marie and actually publish a handout, but at the very least you should offer a brief, informal verbal introduction. If you care about your boat and your friends, introducing one to the other is the least you can do.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.