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Imagine you’re about to embark on an epic sea adventure. You’ve got your crew, your route, your snacks (very important), but wait – have you filled out your float plan yet?
Well, this document, recommended by the US Coast Guard, could be the unsung hero of your trip.
So if things go a bit “Titanic”, your rescuers have all the information they need to swoop in, superhero-style.
What Is A Float Plan?
Like a flight plan for aircraft, a float plan is a form that details the planned route of your boating trip, including time schedules.
At a basic level, a float plan lets people know where you are going and when you plan to return. It is similar to a flight plan that gets filed by pilots before each flight.
Float plans are left with a responsible party (someone who is remaining behind) and if you don’t check in at your destination or return as planned, a search operation can be launched.
It should include the type of vessel you will be in, who will be traveling with you (and any medical conditions), where you plan to go, and when you plan to return (or check-in at your destination).
Why Do You Need A Float Plan And What Is The Purpose?
A float plan can help to save your life when things literally don’t go to plan.
Boating and kayaking can be dangerous, especially on oceans or a river with rapids. That’s why it’s important to let someone know where you are going.
This applies to both short and long boating trips, whether you’re in a kayak, canoe, bass boat, or larger vessel. Accidents can happen in any size of boat. And if you file a float plan with your vessel information included, rescuers will know where to look to find you.
A float plan is similar to telling someone you’re heading out on a long road trip and expect to leave at a certain time and arrive by a certain time. The difference with a float plan, however, is that the information is written down so that important details cannot be forgotten by the person you are informing.
If you plan to head on a kayak camping trip that will last a week, your float plan should include details of the time and date you plan to leave and arrive at your final destination.
It should also include the route of your trip, along with all the camping sites along the way. The location of your launch site and exit point should also be included.
This way, if an emergency situation occurs or you suffer mechanical issues, people on land would know where to locate you or where to begin a search, effectively giving rescuers a head start
Without a float plan, search and rescue groups would not know where to begin to look for you. Even if you have told a neighbor or family member where you are going, sometimes the information is not always correctly remembered and may be inaccurate.
Correctly filing a float plan can help in situations where you may need assistance because of mechanical issues or if someone in your party suffers a medical emergency.
A float plan can be useful not only in locating you if you get into an accident or in stormy weather, but it can also be useful if you need to be located due to an emergency at home and need to cut your trip short.
Who Prepares A Float Plan?
Generally, the boat operator should file a float plan. If you are going out boating on your own, you are responsible for filing a float plan.
If you are in a kayaking group, a responsible party member can file a float plan on behalf of the group. Or you can prepare a float plan individually if you think your group may become separated.
All boaters should file a float plan for safety. This applies to all boaters and boats. For example, water skiers, rafters, paddle boarders, canoeists, kayakers, rowers, cruisers, fishing vessels, jet skiers, and any other type of watercraft.
How Do You File A Float Plan And What Information Should It Contain?
You can search for float plan templates to help you out with what you need to include. This can also provide you with a printer-friendly option that you can fill out with your own details.
At the very least, it should contain where you are going, who is going, when you will be back, and what to do if you don’t return on time
Float Plan Template
Important Information To Include
People On Board
You should include the name of the operator of the vessel along with the names of each passenger on that particular boat.
If you are traveling as a group of canoeists or kayakers, you should include the name of each paddler and passenger. Ages and gender should also be included, as well as a contact number for each person in your group.
You should also note whether anyone in your party suffers from any medical conditions that could affect your journey or may require additional help from the coast guard in a boating emergency.
Description Of The Boat
This is where you need to state your vessel information. If you have a kayak or canoe, you should detail the Hull Identification Number (HIN). If you have a motorized boat, you should include the boat’s registration number in addition to the HIN.
You should detail the color of the hull and trim of your boat, with any unique or identifying features. In addition to a physical description, it’s recommended that you include a photo of the vessel with your float plan so that it can be easily identified.
Add a description of your car if you will drive to the launch site. It can be a good idea to note your vehicle’s license number and where you have parked.
It is important to include specific details of your proposed route here. This means not only the start and end points, but the exact route you plan to take, with a list of all the stops you plan to make.
Your rest stops, picnic stops, campsites, and any other stops should be outlined on the form. This means including the dates and times that you plan to arrive in these locations and when you plan to depart.
If you’re kayaking or canoeing and plan to portage any part of the route, remember to include the take-outs and put-ins, with details of the portaging route.
You may want to include alternative routes that you might have to take in the event of changing weather or unforeseen circumstances while you’re on the water.
Remember, if your plans change, you should always let the keeper of the float plan know. Otherwise, you could end up causing worry and triggering a search party for no reason.
When You Plan To Return
This is an important piece of information for a float plan, as this is what could result in a search and rescue operation being launched.
If your boating trip begins in one place and ends in another, include the estimated arrival time at your final destination. If your journey is out and back then include the estimated time that you plan to return.
It is important to close the float plan when you return or check-in at your final destination. This means letting the keeper of your float plan know that you have arrived safely.
If you don’t close the float plan, people may end up alerting the authorities to look for you.
What To Do If You Don’t Return As Planned
Another important part of the float plan is to provide information on what to do if you and your party don’t return on schedule.
This means providing exact information to the friend or responsible person who has your float plan. This will include a number of who to call. If it’s the coast guard or rescue authorities, write down the exact number to call.
You should also include at least two other phone numbers of emergency contacts.
The person who you filed your float plan with can contact these numbers to notify them if you don’t check-in at your destination on time. The emergency contact numbers should be called first. And if there is a genuine emergency then the rescue personnel and authorities can be contacted.
Who Should A Float Plan Be Left With?
Your float plan should be left with a reliable person. This can be family or a neighbor. Or you can choose to file a float plan with staff at the marina.
It can be wise to file the float plan with two adults, just in case. This way, you have a backup person to raise the alarm if one person fails to do so.
Can You Leave A Float Plan With The US Coast Guard?
The short answer is, no. You cannot leave a float plan with the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard should only be notified in an emergency. The responsible person who has your float plan can nofity the coast guard if you don’t return home from your trip as planned.
Can You Use Technology For Filing A Float Plan?
Yes, technology can speed up the process and can give you a digital copy of your float plan, which can be more secure.
By creating a float plan digitally on a computer, tablet, or phone, you can add the basic information ahead of time and save it as a template. When your boating adventure date approaches, you can update the float plan to include more detailed information, including all your departure times and planned check-in locations.
This digital plan can then be stored on your device. You can also easily and quickly email the float plan to your trusted friend or relative. A digital float plan can be easier to find by the responsible party, as it will be located in their phone or other device, unlike a paper copy that could get misplaced.
The US Coast Guard also has an app that you can use to file your float plan more easily. It also lets you check you have the correct safety equipment for your vessel.
Video: How To File A Float Plan
However, if technology is not your strong suit, you can always fill out a paper copy. No matter how you file a float plan, the important thing is that you do it.
The Importance Of Safe Boating Habits In Addition To Having A Float Plan
A boating emergency can happen when you least expect it. Let’s face it, nobody ever expects to get into an accident. That’s why it is better to be prepared so that you can minimize your risks and maximize your safety on the water.
Follow Rules And Regulations
To stay safe on the water, as a responsible party, it is important that you follow the rules and regulations that apply in the specific location where you are boating.
If there are speed restrictions, no-wake zones, or other restrictions, make sure you know what and where they are before you set off (and pay attention to any signposts on your route).
Wear A Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
A PFD can save your life. If you are on a small boat or in a kayak or canoe, you should always wear a PFD. Almost everywhere in the US, you are required by law to have a suitable PFD on board your vessel for each person.
Children are required to wear a PFD at all times while on the deck of a small boat.
Carry A Whistle Or Sounding Device
No matter what type of boat you are on, you should always carry some type of sounding device. This is a useful piece of safety equipment that can be easily carried on board.
If you are in a kayak, canoe, or on a paddle board, a whistle can be clipped to your PFD or clothing so that it is easy to access in an emergency.
Alcohol and boating do not mix well. In most places it is illegal to operate a vessel while you are under the influence of alcohol.
The penalties for boating under the influence can be the same as for driving under the influence, and can include a jail sentence.
Float Plan Success Stories: Real-Life Examples Of How Float Plans Saved Lives
What is interesting is that most float plan success stories tend not to make the news. The majority of times where boating stories hit the news is often when there is a tragedy. So, searching for success stories from a responsible party is a little trickier.
However, one success story where a float plan led to the safe rescue of missing boaters was back in the summer of 2021 in Virginia. Two boaters and their dog failed to return at the expected time on their float plan. This led to the family member calling the US Coast Guard.
The float plan helped to point the rescuers in the right direction. The two boaters and their dog were successfully found, with their boat beached near a creek.
Conclusion: Time For A Safe And Secure Boating Adventure
Now you know how important it is to file a float plan before you head out on the water. Hopefully you also know how to prepare one.
Remember to outline your route, describe your boat, and who is joining you, and remember to close the plan once you return safely. Don’t forget to tell someone if your plans change.
Has a float plan saved your life? Tell us your story. And remember to share this to keep others safe.