Float Plans and Cell Phones Save Lives...

A new safety feature for the readers of SailNorthEast.Com...

September, 2002

      The idea behind a float plan is simple. When you go cruising you ought to tell somebody you know and trust where and when you are starting, where you are going and when you expect to arrive at your destination.

      When you get where you are going you ought to tell that somebody that you've arrived.

      If they don't hear from you and can't contact you that somebody ought to tell the Coast Guard that you are overdue and that they can't contact you. The Coast Guard will take it from there and spend millions of tax-payer dollars looking for you until they, hopefully, find you sitting in a bar somewhere, eating shellfish and saying, "Oops! I forgot to call Aunt Jane...".

      Aboard SailNorthEast's flagship, Encore, I do a lot of single-handed coastal cruising. In the past when I cruised it was my habit to send emails each evening, through my cell phone, to a mailing list of friends and relations. There's more info about cellular internet connections at the bottom of this page. This worked well but it was kind of a nuisance to maintain the mailing list and create a new mail item each evening, so...

      I've created a new program to automate the process and am looking for a few good cruisers to help me test it. Here's how it works...

      First I set you up with a page for your specific boat and add it to the list on our float plan page.

      Next, you add the names and email addresses of your nearest and dearest to the mailing list with this form:

      Then, when you're cruising, you (or somebody you call if you don't have a cell internet connection) send emails to the mailing list from this form:

      The email is automatically added to your boat's page (for all the world to see!) and your friends and relations get an email that looks like this:

      If you have an argument with Aunt Jane she can remove herself from the mailing list and if you have an unexpected admirer who wants to be on your mailiing list he or she can add him or her self without having to ask you to do it.

      If you'd like to try it out please send a request with your boat name to float-plans@sailnortheast.com.

      The service will be free for the first few boats to sign up and help me test it then will be by subscription once we iron out any kinks we find.

      The USCG has published an article about the importance and value of float plans with a lot of scary examples on their site at www.uscg.mil

      And they have a very long and detailed form you can fill out and leave with somebody (not them).

      I personally find this form a little intimidating. It reminds me of filing my income tax ... But I know they mean well and would encourage you to fill it out once and leave it with your nearest and dearest to be updated with the specifics of your current voyage and given to the CG if it's ever necessary. The form does provide a good check on the current state of your safety equipment and is probably a good idea if you haven't had a courtesy inspection since 1996.

More about cellular internet connections -

      SailNorthEast uses Verizon Wireless for its cellular service. From my experience I would say that Verizon provides good, reliable, internet connections from Cape Ann, MA, down the Atlantic Coast to Norfolk, VA, (Great Bridge on the ICW) but from there south you're stuck with voice communications. Can't wait until they increase the coverage! The connection we use is not high speed but has very low latency. This means that it normally feels like it's operating at standard dial-up speeds but it's really operating much slower. The slower speed becomes obvious when you have to do a large download. I get around this problem by turning off images in my browser when things slow down. The float plan pages at SailNorthEast.Com are optimized for slower speeds and we always try to write our articles so they don't depend on images for their content.

Verizon Wireless


From Patrick Harris on Monday, November 11, 2002 at 09:12:20

Re: Savings lives and Cell Phones

You can contact the nearest Coast Guard station on your cell phone by pressing * CG at any time. You are also permitted to test the system. Just press * (star) CG and when the station answers, just tell them you are testing your phone. I'm not sure of the range, but this sure does provide a nice VHF back up, or even primary, way of contacting the Coast Guard in emergencies. I am not sure if this is limited to emergency service, so you may wish to try it for some more routine traffic. Good cruising -- Pat Harris, aboard s/v Rainbow


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