1. Always wear a life jacket and insist that your crew and guests do the same. Approximately 70 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned in 2011. Eighty-four percent of those who drowned were not wearing a life jacket, and 8 out of every 10 boaters who drowned were on vessels less than 21 feet in length. Always have an adequate supply of life jackets aboard.
2. Never drink alcohol while boating. Alcohol use was the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2011. Stay sharp on the water by having a designated driver just like you would on land.
3. Take a boating safety course. Only 11% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction. You might even qualify for an insurance discount!
4. Stay in control by taking charge of your safety and that of your passengers. Boaters between the ages of 36 and 55, who comprise approximately 30% of all the operators, accounted for the highest rate of accidents, injuries and fatalities in 2011. Don’t forget that safety begins with you.
5. Understand and obey boating safety recommendations and navigational rules. Imagine the mayhem that would result if car drivers disregarded highway traffic laws. Know and understand boating safety procedures and rules of navigation before taking to the water, and practice them without fail.
6. Operate at a safe speed and always maintain a proper lookout. Overall, operator inattention, operator inexperience, excess speed and improper lookout were the leading contributing factors in all reported accidents. Know your boat’s limitations as well as your own. Take note of visibility, traffic density and the proximity of navigation hazards like shoals, rocks or floating objects. Don’t invite a collision by going faster than is prudent.
7. Check the weather forecast. A calm day can quickly turn ugly on the water. Keep an eye out for changing weather conditions and stay on top of the forecast while boating. Promptly heed all weather and storm advisories.
8. Hypothermia is a significant risk factor for injury and even death while boating. Cold water accelerates the onset and progression of hypothermia since body heat can be lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. The closer you are to rescue support the better your chances are, therefore an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or Global Positioning System interfaced Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB/GPIRB), and/or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), is recommended today for all boaters.
9. Use a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. CO can harm and even kill you inside or on the deck of your boat. All internal combustion engines emit carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless, colorless, poisonous gas that can make you sick in seconds and kill in minutes. Even just a few breaths in high enough concentrations can be fatal. CO symptoms are similar to seasickness or alcohol intoxication, and can affect you whether you are underway, moored or anchored. Remember, you cannot see, smell or taste CO!
10. File a float plan. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends that you always tell a friend or family member where you plan to go and when you’ll be back. Make it a habit before leaving on any boat trip. The proper officials can be notified promptly if you don’t return when expected.
And most important Remember, you can have your vessel checked for safety – for free!
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron offer Vessel Safety Checks at no cost. Their certified vessel examiners will check your boat’s equipment and provide information about its use, safety procedures and applicable regulations. Unsafe boats are a threat to all recreational boaters. Make sure your vessel is as safe as possible. Carry USCG currently approved visual distress signals at all times. Visit the U.S. Coast Guard web site at: www.uscgboating.org/fedreqs/default.html for more information.