Sailing lessons with Charlie begin with a safety briefing. There must be life jackets or PFDs for everyone on board, a throwable life ring or horseshoe buoy, fire extinguishers for all types of fire and a quantity to satisfy the size of boat, and a quick lesson on fire extinguisher operation and different methods of extinguishing a fire. Other safety issues include man overboard and recovery, sound signals, lights at night and VHF operation.
Now VHF operation presents quite a bit of confusion to many people. Often novices forget to acknowledge the change of station required when first making initial contact. This creates irritation and frustration as communication ceases. Then there are the three forms of emergency broadcast: Securite, Pan Pan and Mayday. What odd language you might think, and you'd be correct. All three terms derive from the French language: Mayday comes from the French, venez m'aider, come and help me. Pan pan comes from the French panne, which means breakdown and Securite is a warning concerning your security. Wonderful! The French are always there when they need us!
"Mayday is only for the most serious emergencies and is broadcast on channel 16," explains Charlie, "and is for impending loss of life situations. Every sailor should know where he is at all times because you need to give this information to the emergency service, along with the name of the boat and nature of the emergency."
Not long ago the following emergency dialogue was heard on Channel 16:
Yacht: "Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is yacht Passing Wind; my wife's having a heart attack!"
Emergency Responder: "Sir, what is your position?"
PW: "My position is serious!"
ER: "Sir, what is your location?"
PW: "We're sailing in the BVI."
ER: "Sir, what is your lat and long?"
PW: "UUUrrrh, just a minute."
Valuable minutes pass …
PW: "My long is 51 feet, lat 23 feet."
The rest of the conversation cannot be repeated in a respectable magazine. The happy outcome was that the woman was suffering from a mild case of heartburn and recovered fully.
Julian Putley is the author of "The Drinking Man's Guide to the BVI," "Sunfun Calypso," and "Sunfun Gospel."