Anyone who spends time outside knows Mother Nature has a way of humbling even the most experienced waterman. In an odd way, I think it is one of the things that attracts us to the great outdoors. The key is to minimize the damage by being prepared. Filing a float plan is a great way to ensure a prompt and efficient rescue should your SUP session turn into a nightmare.
I have been experimenting with two iPhone apps for filing float plans - the ACA's Paddle Ready and the USCG's Boating Safety. Both apps get the job done and have a ton of useful features in addition to the float plan. Both float plan templates require the same basic information such as names, vessel details, emergency contacts, launch points, waypoints, takeout points, check-in times, and vehicle/trailer details. Each app also enables you to email the float plan and saves the plan for future editing and use. I usually email mine to my dear wife and the manager at the marina if I am launching out of there.
The ACA float plan is short and sweet. It takes no time to create and file a new plan. This is important if you are like me and trying to create the float plan at the last minute while parked at the launch point with the tide window closing. It was also designed to include SUP as a vessel option. Another feature I like is the ability to turn on an Alert Authorities function. The app will alert authorities if you do not check in by a specified date and time. Be careful with this one. On a recent tour we unexpectedly found rideable waves 2 miles offshore. Needless to say we did not make it in by our check in time.
The feature I like most on the USCG app is the red Emergency Assistance button. It provides your GPS coordinates when you hit the button. Of course, the major limitation here is cellular signal. Another feature I really like is the ability to upload pictures of your vessel to the float plan. I have added pictures of the top and bottom of my paddle boards. I want to give the spotter in helicopter every advantage to finding me drifting around in the ocean.
My iPhone has become critical (perhaps sadly) to running my day to day activities both personal and business. Having the ability to file float plans is an added convenience for sure. The more we make safety convenient the more likely it gets addressed, so I am a fan.
That said, if you are going to use your mobile phone as an emergency communication device get a proper waterproof case, 20 L dry bag, or deck bag. I have learned the hard way. A seal-able plastic bag is useless when it comes to protecting a mobile phone from salt water.