Whether or not you appreciate a casual helper when driving your boat, having someone aboard who is available to help is always reassuring. We call such a person a ‘First Mate.’
A partner or close friend will always feel closer if they are able to participate in your boating and not just go along for the ride. To maintain close relationships with partners or associates who are willing to help, there are a couple of important requirements.
The first mate must be very clear as to what is on their list of responsibilities and they need to be capable of doing it. Once this is achieved, you and your first mate are sure to have a practical and worthwhile boating relationship.
The specifics of a first mate’s responsibilities varies with the boat that is driven and the type of boating that you do. Obviously a first mate on a large yacht will have greater opportunities to help than one in an 18-foot runabout. But a first mate can be a valuable asset in both cases. There are a multitude of helpful things that a second person can do to make a boat ride easier and safer. Lets look at some examples of activities that can be relegated to a first mate.
It begins before you go to the boat. The boat operator should not be the only one to check the weather. A first mate may have a different read on it and be the one to pack rain gear. It’s a good idea for a first mate to have a pre-trip checklist. If it is a short trip, water may be all you need, but for an all day trip the list may include spare jackets, medical pills, charts, wallets, sun screen and maybe a towel. Boater certification cards can be left in the glove box. Requirements for extended cruises are much more complicated. A first mate and captain must work together to ensure that nothing is forgotten. Physically packing the boat with the items you take can also be a first mate task. Being able to find them quickly without creating clutter is important.
If there are passengers, the first mate should make seating suggestions that keep the boat balanced and reduce the likelihood of passengers playing musical chairs ten minutes into the trip. This is a good time to go through an explanation of where safety items are stored and ask passengers if they have any questions. If you can’t answer their questions, you may need a boating course yourself, or at least different passengers. The first mate departure process includes removing the lines and storing them where they won’t get into the propeller. Fenders must also be removed to keep them from scoring the boat and the driver from looking like an amateur.
To this point, our first mate has been quite busy, but the most important task is just beginning. A boat is not a car. Well, you knew that, but what you might forget is that in a boat, things can come at you from all directions. A second pair of eyes can prove invaluable. When spotted traffic could possibly threaten a collision, a driver needs to know. A first mate can use the clock hour hand method to confirm that you have seen the traffic. A simple announcement such as “traffic at 3 o’clock” by a first mate should always be welcomed by a driver, even if he/she has already seen it. A driver may have already seen that large tour boat, but that extra pair of eyes will help spot that hidden deadhead. Day markers, and other navigational signs are both navigational clues and collision hazards, so you should identify each one as you approach it. A first mate should also confirm marker colours and whether it is a flat or pointed top. To best perform this observation task, a first mate must know the basic navigation rules of boating. These can be reviewed online or through available boating courses. When it comes to boating, a second pair of eyes is always useful.
On longer trips, a first mate should give the driver a break by switching places between helm seat and first mate seat. Upon returning to your home dock, a first mate should follow the protocol established with the captain in order to dock safely and confidently. Docking should include a reminder to passengers to stay seated until the boat is completely docked. This is known as calling for a sterile cockpit.
In boating, it’s important to remember that the driver is ultimately responsible for all activities on the boat, but with a little experience at sharing the requirements of good boating, the captain and first mate will soon work together as smoothly as a well oiled machine. After you have read this article, ask your first mate to read it, and then you can buy her/him one of those coffee mugs that read, First Mate.