by Vincent Pica
Commodore, First District, Southern Region (D1SR)
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

If you saw the movie Marathon Man, you will surely remember Sir Laurence Olivier holding a dentist’s drill over Dustin Hoffman’s tooth and asking, “Is eet safe? Is eet safe?” Poor Dustin Hoffman kept asking, “Safe about what??” – until he started screaming… Your boat may pass its vessel safety check, which means it at least meets federal minimum requirements… But is eet safe…? This column is about that.

Safe For What?

Admiral Halsey is famous for many things but one is noting that, for a thousand years, safety starts at the dock. What are you intending to do with this boat, on this passage, with a certain mission or task in mind – and is it properly outfitted for that? Certainly, meeting federal minimums sounds more than a little short of the mark if you’re intending to head out to the Hudson Canyons for an overnight fishing trip. OK, you’ve got your required number of flares for the size of your boat and a life jacket for everyone, but are you really prepared for what God’s Great Ocean can throw at you? What are the “optional” items that could open up the safety window for you while the US Coast Guard comes charging out to get you?

Cell Phone v VHF Radio

In my mind, the greatest piece of safety gear that you have on your boat is a simple VHF radio. Several Sundays ago, the USCG saved six sailors off a sinking sailing vessel. The skipper pressed the “Digital Selective Calling” button on his radio (they all come with that button now) and, since he had connected it to his GPS, it sent his GPS coordinates directly to USCG rescue personnel. Station Shinnecock dispatched one of their vessels (USCG Auxiliarist Joe Tarlentino of Center Moriches was aboard and part of the rescue team) directly to the stricken vessel. The boat sank to the bottom but all six mariners were saved. What if they hadn’t had a GPS hooked in to their DSC-equipped radio? Frankly, much the same result would have happened. Rescue-21 would have been able to generate a line of bearing to the boat and the USCG would have raced down that line until they came upon the vessel. What about a cell phone call? To who – your wife? “Honey, send help!” How about the fishing vessel that is a half-mile away…but you don’t have his cell phone number? Maybe you can strap the cell phone to a rocket flare and try to hit him with it.

Getting Back Aboard

If you do manage to lose a crewman overboard, or even yourself, how will you get back aboard? If you don’t have a collapsible boarding ladder attached to your stern or your swim platform, you’ll never get back aboard unless you can pull a “Flipper the Flying Porpoise” and jump into the boat. Get a good one, with at least three steps that pull out, so you can get your cold and cramped legs onto the bottom step. If you have to pull yourself up to steps that are just too high, you may find it impossible to save yourself.

Money No Object?

It always strikes me as penny-wise and pound-foolish to skimp on safety equipment, such as a GPS or an EPIRB, but the reality is that not everyone is in a position to afford $5/gallon gasoline and a $500 GPS or $900 EPIRB. Of course, we are talking about saving the life most important to you – yours!
If you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources Department, who are in charge of new members matters, at and we will help you “get in this thing.”

Captain Ed Cubanski is the Captain of the Port and Sector Commander for US Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. Captain Cubanski is responsible for all active-duty, reservist and auxiliary Coast Guard personnel within the Sector. Vin Pica, a Commodore for the First District Southern Region in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, works closely with Captain Cubanski and his staff to promote boating safety in the waters between Connecticut, Long Island and 200 nautical miles offshore. Sector Long Island Sound Command Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 203-468-4401.

Editor’s note: Weekly updates for the waters from Eastport, ME to Shrewsbury, NJ including discrepancies in Aids to Navigation, chart corrections and waterway projects are listed in the USCG Local Notice to Mariners. Log onto, scroll to “Current Operational/Safety Information,” click on “Local Notice to Mariners” then “LNMs by CG District,” and click on “First District.”

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