Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Be Wary of Overconfidence

December 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

boating experience

Three well-publicized boating disasters have serious implications for every recreational power or sail skipper who ventures out to sea even on sunny, calm summer days.

In October of 2012, HMS Bounty succumbed to raging seas tossed up by Hurricane Sandy and sank with the loss of two, including the captain.Five people on a charter fishing boat barely survived in May of 2013 when their vessel capsized in heavy surf on a shoal off Nantucket.

And on January 17, 2014, a brand new 42-foot catamaran was abandoned in the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina; its four-member crew was plucked from the sea by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.

All three vessels had one thing in common:  each was under the command of a thoroughly professional skipper with years of maritime experience. Nevertheless, each came a cropper. They are all victims of what marine safety expert Mario Vittone calls “the illusion of experience” — overconfidence of personnel with years at sea.If it can trip up the pros, it can happen to you.

With 22 years of experience as a much-decorated U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmer, Vittone warns that every maritime tragedy at sea begins with decisions made at the dock. He notes that pros have difficulty seeing through the veil of what they call “experience” into the reality of the dangers that any day on the water may entail (after all, they have successfully overcome similar situations before, so they think that they can do so over and over again). For example, a skipper may have amassed plenty of heavy weather sailing experience over the years, plowing through raging seas while stretching the margin of error quite thinly. He’s gone through ugly weather before, and though others might think he makes dangerously rash decisions, the next time something unforeseen looms, the captain regards the hazard as business as usual — until his boat sinks.

Such a scenario should act as a wake-up call for small-craft owners who commonly say things such as, “I am a cautious boater; mistakes or accidents will never happen to me because I don’t make bad decisions.” To that mindset, Vittone responds, “Experience is being fooled by someone who’s gotten away with the same mistake longer than you have.”

How should the prudent skipper act? First, be humble in the face of the power of the sea. In other words, don’t be a smartass. Just because you have successfully cut across the same body of thin water dozens of times doesn’t mean that something can’t go wrong on the next trip.

Second, access the risks, express doubts, and consult with your crew. For instance, if storm clouds are gathering and your gut tells you that conditions might become dicey, despite the fact that you have been out in such weather dozens of times already, go with your gut before you cast off that bowline.

Lastly, don’t take anything for granted. Before each cruise (even if you’re only heading out for a couple of hours to familiar waters), review the condition of your craft. Ascertain whether all systems are working, the fuel tanks are topped off, and all safety features are in place. Consult marine weather reports and share the information with your crew. While the final decision to set out is yours as the skipper, it is better to make decisions based on the combination of your experience and any diversity of experience available to you.

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit http://cgaux.org/ to join the Auxiliary or for class information.

 

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