Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Judy L Silverstein, 7th Coast Guard District Public Affairs.
National Safe Boating Week is officially over, but we’re providing 12 tips to highlight the importance of safe boating throughout the 12 weeks of summer. If you see something missing from this list, add it in the comments to ensure smooth sailing for all boaters this summer!
1. Always wear your life jacket and have life jackets for each passenger.
The Coast Guard estimates 80 percent of boating fatalities could have been prevented if boaters wore their life jackets. Many people assume merely having life jackets aboard is sufficient. However, accidents occur suddenly and there may not be time to grab your life jacket so they should always be worn.
2. File a float plan.
When an emergency strikes, vital details in a float plan will be readily available for responders. You can download a form, conduct some pre-trip planning, chart a course and list emergency contacts. Sharing information about your route and other details helps rescuers locate you in the event something goes wrong.
3. Have safety equipment in good working order.
Having safety equipment aboard is not enough. It must be working!
An emergency positioning indicating radio beacon allows response agencies to be alerted of your position, even if you become incapacitated. Registering the EPIRB and keeping the information updated is critical. You should also have a VHF-FM radio in good working order as cell phones may not be reliable offshore.
Should disaster strike, carrying flares, a whistle, an airhorn, a signal mirror or other visual distress signals will be essential. You should also have a fire extinguisher aboard and if your boat is greater than 16-feet you must have a life ring or throwable cushion.
4. Get a free vessel safety check before heading out on the water.
Knowing what’s required and getting things in order can improve your chances of safe boating. The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a comprehensive check ranging from registration numbers to inspection of ventilation, fuel tanks and other on board systems to safety equipment including fire extinguishers, personal floatation devices, visual distress signals and inflatable rafts. It’s all designed to improve your vessel safety knowledge and confidence.
5. Familiarize yourself with the vessel – whether you own the boat or are renting it – before getting underway.
Taking a few moments to understand the way your vessel operates can increase your confidence and help avoid unsafe situations while on the water.
6. Check the weather and marine conditions.
It’s wise to check the currents, tides, winds and storm predictions before heading out and during your trip. Watch for lightning and hurricanes and unexpected summer squalls. You can also use a NOAA weather radio to keep up to date.
7. Take 15 minutes to conduct a pre-departure check list.
Taking the extra time before heading out assures all equipment is in good working order and you didn’t forget anything you might need.
8. Do not operate a boat while under the influence.
Alcohol can impair vision, coordination, balance and judgment. All of these impairments are further magnified by being on the water. Each state has laws prohibiting operation of a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The Coast Guard also enforces a federal law prohibiting boating under the influence. Operating a boat while under the influence is not only unsafe – contributing to nearly 300 accidents and 124 fatalities annually – it’s illegal. Operating a recreational vessel with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is against federal law. The blood alcohol content is .04 or higher if you are aboard a commercial vessel.
9. Enroll in a boating safety class.
Operator errors are preventable with proper training. Yet they are responsible for 70 percent of all boating accidents. The Coats Guard Auxiliary offers an array of classes to help improve your safety IQ.
10. Don’t overload your boat.
Evenly distributed weight keeps a boat balanced. On a small boat, resist the urge to have several people check the engine in a small boat as it can easily flip over. Remember that standing and changing seating positions can immediately make the boat less stable, making it easier for a wave, wake or sudden turn to send someone overboard or capsize the vessel.
11. Focus your attention and designate someone to be your lookout.
A distracted boat driver can lead to an accident. Having a second set of eyes aboard can help discern navigational hazards and even a sudden change in weather.
12. Operate at safe speeds and obey all signage.
When preparing your float plan take the time to understand how to read a chart. Taking a boating safety class will also help you understand navigational rules. Obeying posted speeds and no wake zones helps protect you and your crew, other boaters and marine life.