“The weather here can drastically change without warning,” said Cmdr. Marc Burd, chief of response, Coast Guard Sector Juneau. “Prepare for your trip the right way and ensure your boat is seaworthy and can handle current and forecasted sea and weather conditions. Additionally, always file a float plan with a friend or relative and stick to it the best you can.”
The majestic waters of Southeast Alaska are some of the most beautiful waters in the state, however, they can also be some of the most treacherous. The high mountains and fjords in the area can cause gale force winds and significant sea conditions without warning while also preventing any form of communication in some areas. Sudden snow fall, in the tens of inches, is not uncommon.
There are a few things the Coast Guard recommends to the public to prepare for your journey in Southeast Alaska:
- First, You need to ask yourself if your boat is able to safely navigate the rough winter weather that you may encounter on your trip. If in doubt, don’t go.
- Keep abreast of the weather for the duration of your trip. Be sure to look at the forecasted weather for your location and the path of your planned voyage to ensure you stay clear of heavy weather if forecasted. Additionally, snow on small boats can significantly decrease the stability of the vessel, so be sure to take this into account and make your vessel safe for transit.
- Ensure your vessel has adequate winter-rated life saving equipment. Properly fitting life jackets and/or immersion suits along with working life raft are highly recommended. Even if your trip is only planned to be a few hours, be sure you prepare for the worst and bring gear for a few days in case you’re unable to get back home. Shelter, water, and food should be part of your trip planning.
- File a Float Plan. Tell someone where you are going, how long you plan to be gone, when or if you plan to call or check-in during the trip, and when you are planning to return. If your plans change make sure you update someone and ensure the float plan gets updated too. Sample float plans can be found at: http://www.floatplancentral.org/
- Do you have a reliable means of communication? As previously noted, communications can be a challenge in our waters. Nonetheless, a VHF marine-band radio is the best means of communication on the water. In addition to a VHF radio it is also advised you have a cell phone and if possible a satellite phone is a good idea. Don’t forget to have the capability to recharge the phones when you bring them.