Number 1: If you warn the children that the deck is slippery, icy, and dangerous, and caution is required, it strongly behooves you to exercise caution when you step out on to the deck.
Number 2: If you are going to insist that your children wear a life jacket before they go to the shore side to use the head because the hoar frost on the dock is turning the entire marina into an ice skating rink, you should probably slip your own life jacket around your neck… or at least sling it over one arm.
Number 3: When you spend a good deal of time drumming into your children’s resistant pea brains that they should set down heavy packages, disembark, and then grab their possessions off the deck before proceeding down the dock, it is an absolute imperative that you set down the heavy box of groceries BEFORE you step on to the aforementioned slippery, icy and very dangerous transom.
The good news is that the girls were magnificent. More on that bit follows as I can’t restrain my maternal instinct to brag. The bad news is that on my rapid decent down the seven feet of transom to the 42-degree water, I managed to wrench my body every which way and hit the swim ladder, producing bruises every where – including a particularly memorable one that looks like the Horsehead Nebula just below my left butt cheek.
But in the interest of offering substantive advice for my fellow boaters, let me tell you what worked and worked well during this experience:
Man overboard drills work – Last summer we spent a few memorable long-distance sailing and motoring treks with nothing to do but watch the coastline. Just to stir things up a bit, I’d randomly toss a fender overboard and then start screaming, “Man overboard!!” at the top of my lungs. This is a fun game which your children will delight in even while it drives every other boat on the water completely mad. Please note that if you let the kids take ownership of this process, you’ll do nothing but spin around in place retrieving fenders and screaming at your spouse to “go left… no your other left!”
Assigned roles in emergencies – A corollary to the drills is to make sure every member of your crew has a clear notion of her (and his) responsibility. Discuss which role each will take, assuming that one member of the team is missing. Make sure you include the scenario in which you and your spouse are making smoochies on the tramp and, in an excessively enthusiastic display of your marital prerogatives, simply roll off the front of the boat.
Clarify priorities – What is important to save in an emergency? Your sister or your favorite doll? The answer to this question is not as obvious to children as you might suppose. In fact, I rather suspect that this question is not as obvious to many adults as you might suppose.
Equip your boat with the proper safety gear – There is what the US Coast Guard requires, there are the recommendations from salty cruisers, and then there is what your mama would say. All I’m going to say is you should never underestimate how much smarter your parents get as you age.
So let’s go back to the rather memorable moment this morning when we tested the Emergency Don Quixote Swimming System. It’s 8:30am, Dr C has already left for work, the docks are deserted on a 34-degree, clear January morning, leaving the ambient temperature in the water roughly between “holy crap this is cold” and “get me the hell out of here my toes are about to freeze off!” After properly advising, warning, and chiding my children, I do everything I told them not to and step on to the icy, slick transom with a box full of heavy groceries. I immediately slip off and drop with a thump, bump, whomp, >splash< into the water.
Instantly – arguably before I hit the water – a peal of “Man overboard!” goes up from three well trained throats. My youngest at six braces herself like a general on the deck and points her arm directly at me, floundering not four feet away between the dock and the stern. Her job, obviously, is to maintain visual contact with the victim. The eight year old starts a fast march up to the marina office. Her job? When possible, get another adult.
My eldest looks first for the life sling which had, unfortunately, already been stowed. In its absence and seeing by this time that I had already half levitated out of the water and back on to the boat in sheer horror at the temperature, she comes down the transom. Her job is, of course, to aid the victim in getting out of the water by use of life sling, swim ladder and just grabbing the victim by the scruff and yanking. All three, seeing me back aboard, move to their second jobs. One and three get me stripped and into dry clothing faster than costume change for a Vegas showgirl. Two begins salvage operations.
Granted, it was not one of my finest moments as a sailor. I do, however, consider it one of my finer moments as a mother, generously allowing my children to shine in the face of adversity.