Every year, recreational boaters take to the waterways to soak up some sun and have fun on the water. Too often, however, recreational boating trips turn tragic, resulting in injury or even death.
According to the United States Coast Guard, in 2009 there were more than 4,700 recreational boating accidents. Those accidents involved nearly 750 deaths. Perhaps most telling, only 14 percent of those deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction. The importance of precautionary measures when boating is immeasurable, and boaters should heed the following safety advice whenever taking to the water, be it in the ocean or on a nearby lake or river.
Enroll in a boating skills course. Technology is forever advancing, and boating technology is not immune. Those new to boating should take a safety course before the boating season begins. Even veteran sailors would be wise to take a boating skills and safety course at least every few years. This can help refresh their memory and keep boaters abreast of the latest technology. Volunteer organizations, including the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron, and others sponsor many courses, and many state boating agencies also provide classes. To learn more, visit www.uscgboating.org.
Be mindful of the weather. Driving in bad weather can be dangerous, but boating in bad weather can prove fatal. Be especially mindful of the weather when planning a boating trip. The National Weather Service provides daily boating reports, as well as forecasts for the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. Boat owners should consult these reports before leaving the dock.
Make sure all boat passengers know how to swim. Surviving a capsized boat is never easy, but it's nearly impossible for passengers who don't know how to swim. Make sure all passengers know how to swim before heading out to sea. If it's been awhile since you have taken to the water, refresh your memory with a swimming course and make sure passengers are physically capable of swimming. For those that are not, make sure life jackets are readily accessible and not hidden away in some under seat storage area. In fact, it would be wise to ask the passengers who cannot swim to actually wear a life jacket.
Do not consume alcohol while operating a boat. The USCG notes that alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Sixteen percent of boating deaths listed alcohol use as the leading contributor. Just because you're on the water does not mean laws no longer apply. It's illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol, not to mention considerably unsafe. Passengers might not know the first thing about operating a boat, so skippers must maintain their sobriety in the case of an accident, sudden storm, or a mechanical problem.
Stock up on life jackets. One size does not fit all when it comes to life jackets. Adult-sized life jackets, for example, will not work for children. A child's life jacket should fit snugly and not allow the child's chin or ears to slip through. Test all life jackets for wear and buoyancy at least once per year, and discard any life jackets that are waterslogged, leaky or faded. Keep extra life jackets aboard just to be safe. South Carolina law states that all vessels must have at least one Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (life jacket) that is U.S. Coast Guard-approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed. Sizing for lifejackets is based on body weight and chest size.
Protect yourself and passengers from carbon monoxide. Exposure to CO is possible inside a cabin and outside the boat. Install a CO detector on the boat and maintain it properly, including checking it before boating season begins to make sure it's still functioning properly. It's especially important to protect yourself and your passengers from CO, as the symptoms of CO exposure are similar to those of seasickness and alcohol intoxication. But prolonged exposure to low concentrations of CO or quick exposure to high concentrations can be fatal.
Don't allow swimmers near the boat's exhaust pipe. Part of the fun of sailing is allowing passengers to take a dip or a swim when the boat has stopped moving. However, never let swimmers swim or wade near the engine's exhaust pipe. Exhaust from a boat's engine can be a deadly source of CO. Keep swimmers in sight at all times.
To learn more about boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org or www.boat-ed.com/sc/handbook