Human error is the leading cause of boating accidents. Be sure an activity intended for fun doesn’t end in tragedy by remembering to always put safety first.
According to a report by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, over the past 20 years boating incidents have caused no fewer than 560 deaths in a single year. In 2017, boating accidents caused 658 deaths and 2,629 injuries in the United States. Of these boating deaths, 46% were in open motorboats, while a surprising 21% were in canoes/kayaks. In total, a staggering $45,992,120.93 worth of property damages resulted from boating-related accidents in 2017.
Nearly all boating accidents can be avoided with preparation and vigilance.
When planning an outing:
Create a safety checklist. Ask yourself, do you have all the safety gear you need? Do you have enough life jackets for everyone? Is there a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher on board? Because every person is required to have a life jacket, it’s important to keep life jackets of varying sizes on board. A floating throw cushion should also be easily accessible in case of an emergency.
Make sure your equipment is in tip-top condition before you depart. Ask yourself, is your battery fully charged? Does your boat have enough gas? Simple things like evaluating your equipment ahead of time will save you huge headaches in the future. Don’t wait till setting out to discover your boat’s not working properly. If you don’t take your boat out often, make sure to at least assess the basics. At a minimum, check like the lights (on the boat and on the trailer), pumps (especially the bilge), electronics, radio, and gas levels.
Ensure safe boating weather by checking forecasts frequently. Summer storms are often severe and unpredictable. Weather and wind can change in a blink of an eye, causing boating conditions to go from smooth to dangerous. Make sure your boating day is smooth sailing by checking multiple weather sites before and during your trip. Download a radar app to your phone that can be used with or without cell phone service or connect the radio to weather channel to safeguard against unpredictable weather when you’re out on the water. When technology is not an option, watch for changes in wind speed and cloud formations.
If you plan on taking the boat out in the summertime, bring extra water! Summer days can be unforgivingly hot, making water a number-one priority.
Lastly, but most importantly, tell someone where you plan on going and for how long you plan to be gone. If you plan on boating far away from shore or in a remote area, fill out a float plan and leave it with a reliable person who you can depend on in an emergency situation. A float plan provides details regarding the travel route, scheduled time of departure and arrival, number of passengers, and other important boating information, giving the Coast Guard or another rescue agency a head start in carrying out their rescue efforts.
At the ramp or before launching:
Prepare your boat for the water away from others. Load and transfer items to the side of any driving areas and NOT on the actual boat ramp. Keep in mind, on busy days small ramps can get backed up. The more prepared you are, the more efficient and quicker the process will be everyone.
Double or triple check that your plugged in. Even though some of the most veteran captains still forget, it is critical that you DO NOT forget to put your plug in! While this item may be inexpensive, forgetting it could lead to the quick sinking of your boat!
When backing down the ramp, make sure to put your car in park and use the emergency break. Leaving your vehicle in reverse or neutral will send it to a watery grave.
When going underway:
Inform your passengers the locations of all safety equipment. Show them where you keep the life jackets, throw cushions, first aid kits, and any vital emergency equipment. If you’re a guest on a boat, and the owner hasn’t told you where to find the safety equipment, do not be afraid to ask.
While often overlooked, it’s very important that you ask your boating guests if there is anything you should know about them. As a boat owner, you are responsible, not just for yourself, but also your passengers.
- Can everyone swim?
- Does anyone require medication, and if yes, do they have it with them?
Guests who cannot swim should always wear a life jacket. According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is a major cause of preventable deaths. On average, 332 people die each year from boating-related drownings. One in five of those individuals are children under 14 years of age.
On the water:
Follow local navigation rules. Many waterways have “no-wake,” “no-entry,” or “idle speed,” zones that could lead to a ticket, or worse, an accident, if ignored.
Keep navigation equipment on when boating in unfamiliar waterways and stick to the channels. Nothing will ruin a boating day faster than running aground and damaging your boat!
Remain attentive and alert while navigating the waterways. Recognize who and what is around you. Accidents can happen out of nowhere and the main reason is lack of attention by other boating drivers. There are many distractions (e.g., phones, music, passengers, etc.) that can cause you to lose focus. Always, be aware of your surroundings; observe not only directly in front of the boat but also the sides of the boat, where problems occur frequently. Never assume other boaters see you or know the rules of the water. Like defensive driving on land, defensive boating is critical to the safety of you and your passengers.
Finally, and most importantly, have fun this Summer! We’re all in the same boat. If we practice safe boating, all hands on deck, together, we can prevent boating accidents from occurring and enjoy the open waters!
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