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What is a Float Plan and How Do I Create One?

By The Ahoy! Crew
Published May 3, 2022

“Nobody goes looking for trouble on the water. But when you get into trouble, you’ll want someone looking for you,” reads a safety placard posted outside a boat launch. This placard advertises the importance of float plans, a comprehensive document that details an excursion, crew, and vessel, and is left with a trustworthy individual onshore. If the vessel does not arrive at its destination or check-in with this individual in a reasonable amount of time, then the float plan empowers them to assist authorities in locating and even saving the vessel and passengers onboard. The plan takes minutes to fill out but can save crucial time in an emergency situation.  

What information should you include on your float plan?

  • Vessel identification 
  • Type of propulsion
  • Types of communications onboard 
  • Types of navigation
  • Types of safety and survival equipment onboard 
  • Passengers onboard - including their age and gender
  • Itinerary 
Breaking down the details of the Float Plan

Elaborating on the aforementioned list is a necessity because the more initial information rescue personnel have, the more exact they can be when developing and executing a strategy to locate the vessel. For example, vessel identification should include not only name and home port, but also identifying characteristics such as length, hull color, and any other unique features. The person completing the float plan can even include a photo of the vessel. Furthermore, communications equipment should be detailed so that those working to rescue can attempt contact and assess the predicament. A log of safety and survival equipment onboard should include PFDs, EPIRBs, visual distress signals, medical and health supplies, anchors, and any other gear that would aid in a survival situation. 

Lastly, the itinerary and register of people on board need to be complete and precise. The itinerary should include dates, departure time, origin, and destination. Any changes made to the itinerary should be reported immediately to the individual with the plan so that they may update it accordingly. The registry of people should contain the name, age, gender, and phone number of all those onboard, crew, and passengers alike. More detailed information should be recorded about the captain, including any address or vehicles they may have onshore.

Who should file a float plan?

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the details included in a float plan. Many boaters may review this and feel that a float plan isn’t necessary for them because of their experience, vessel size, or even familiarity with the body of water. However, a responsible boater will always have a float plan handy no matter the size of the vessel or length of the excursion. Kayakers and canoers are no exception, as even the most experienced can find themselves confronted with strong winds and dangerous conditions without a moment’s notice. 

Kayakers and canoers are no exception, as even the most experienced can find themselves confronted with strong winds and dangerous conditions without a moment’s notice. 

Entrust a responsible person with your float plan

So you’ve finished filling out your float plan and now need to leave it onshore with someone trustworthy and responsible before you depart. When considering who to leave it with, weigh the personality and characteristics of the people you know. An ideal candidate would be someone with a cool head and calm demeanor who would be able to maintain composure even in an emergency situation. This person should also be responsible enough to keep an eye on the clock and know when to attempt contact. Be conscious and make sure to have a conversation that sets expectations about communication during the journey.  

Streamlining the float plan process

Preparing a float plan does not have to be a daunting task. The internet is full of free templates for boaters looking to create a float plan online—even the Coast Guard has one available for download. These templates can be filled out using a pre-installed PDF editor on your computer or you can use a free online editor.   

Oftentimes, the only information that changes from one float plan to another is the itinerary and the crew, especially if you’re the captain of your own vessel. Therefore, to streamline the planning process, you can fill out the information that will remain the same, such as vessel details, safety and survival equipment, and even the captain’s information. Then, when preparing for an excursion, you only need to update the template with the itinerary and passengers of that day.

At the very least, be sure to send a written text message to a friend or a family member explaining that you’re headed out to the water. Include details about who is joining you along with the departure and expected return time. That way, in the event of an emergency, someone else will have that information.   

Now go have fun on the water!

Now that you know how to create a float plan and how to select the individual to safeguard your plan, you’re ready to go have fun on the water! You will enjoy your boating excursion more fully when you know that you have gone the extra mile to keep you, your passengers, and your vessel a bit more safe.  



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