Why You Need a Float Plan
All boaters should create a float plan. You should draw one up before every trip out on the water. This is what’s going to stay behind with a family member or friends in case of an emergency. A float plan details all the important information that anyone is going to need to know, including:
- Details about your boat, including name, size, and description
- Where you started your trip, and where you planned to go
- Who else was on board
- Details of gear and supplies you have with you.
What Emergencies Require a Float Plan?
What kind of emergency would require someone at home to have a float plan? Any experienced boater can tell you that you need to expect the unexpected. Suppose your battery dies while you’re out on the water. Your motor may have suffered some kind of mechanical failure. All your electronics are out, and you’ve got no way to head back to shore. The nature of the emergency doesn’t matter. You need to file a float plan in case one does happen.
What Should Be Included in a Float Plan?
Before you head out, leave the float plan with your closest contact person. The person who will most likely notice if you don’t return when you plan on it should have a copy. They’ll be able to give this information to the US Coast Guard. That will help them determine what happened to you if you end up in an emergency.
- Name of the boat owner
- Phone number
- Names of additional people on the boat
- Contact info for other people on board
- Medical information or concerns for anyone on board
Vessel Info: Float plans should always include a detailed boat description so authorities or search and rescue teams can identify it.
- Boat name
- Registration number
- Type of vessel
- Make a vessel
- Length of vessel
- Color of vessel
- Trim color
- Engine type
- Outboard Gas
- Single screw
- Twin screw gas
- Fuel supply in days
- Food supply in days
- Water supply in days
- Type of radio on board
- Radio frequencies monitored
- Safety equipment on board
- Smoke signals
- Life jackets
- Emergency first aid kits
- Emergency position-indicating radio beacon or EPIRB
- Purpose of trip
- Pleasure Cruise
- Time of departure
- Place of departure
- Expected time of return
- Expected place of return
Why File a Float Plan?
As you can see, a float plan contains extensive information. The boat information will likely remain the same every time, so that’s easy enough to fill out. But you should update this adequately before every trip. Authorities need an up-to-date description in float plans. Consider it another aspect of boating safety.
Even with modern technology at our disposal, every year, boaters go missing. In Florida alone, two boaters per year vanish without a trace. In 2019 the Coast Guard responded to over 4,000 boating accidents with over 600 boater deaths.
An Example of How a Float Plan Works
You head out on the water and tell your family you’re going fishing. Nothing else is explained. You plan to come home around 5. You suffer a massive electronics failure. Everything on your boat stops working.
You can’t get a radio signal, your engine won’t start, and your cell phone isn’t getting any bars. You are stranded in the middle of nowhere. Five o’clock comes and goes, and you’re floating, hoping someone will come by your field of vision soon.
Around nightfall, your family realizes something is very wrong. They call the Coast Guard to report that you’re missing. The Coast Guard starts asking important questions, so they will need to know how to find you.
- They’ll ask about your name and the boat, and your family can answer those questions easily.
- Then they’ll ask where you were going.
- What marina you left from.
- What route you were going to take. A float plan can answer those questions.
The ocean is a big place. People need to know where you launched the boat from. Also, where you planned to go, otherwise their search window has to expand dramatically. That’s going to add more manpower and more hours to try to figure out where you are. The less information they have about you, the harder they will have to work to track you down.
Imagine if it was you stuck at home and one of your loved ones disappeared. Wouldn’t you like to know exactly where they had been last? Where they were going? And the time that they were doing everything? Think of it that way, and leave a concise and detailed float plan before you head out. Search and rescue boats need this.
Sample Float Plan
|Name of vessel’s operator:|
|Name of Vessel:|
| Description of Vessel:
Most distinguishing identifiable feature:
|Rafts/Dinghies: Number:________ Size:_______ Color:_______|
|Radio: Type: __________________ Frequencies Monitored: _______________|
|Number of persons onboard:|
|Name:||Age:||Address & Telephone:|
|Note: List additional passengers on back.|
|Engine Type:___________ H.P.:_______ Normal Fuel Supply (days):_______|
| Survival equipment on board: (check as appropriate)
|Food for ________ days – Water for ________ days|
|Date & Time of Departure:|
|Expected to arrive by:____________ In no case later than:_____________|
The Bottom Line
The US Coast Guard has a website setup with a handy template form you can download. You can fill it out if you want to avoid writing up your own float plan. Consider it part of your safety equipment to ensure your trip goes off without a hitch.
Remember to check out your safety equipment routinely to ensure it’s up to snuff. Things like flares have a limited lifespan, so make sure they haven’t expired and replace them when needed. Keep yourself safe, and you’ll enjoy your boat for years to come.