BOSTON — The Coast Guard encourages anyone headed out to the water this weekend to take several precautionary steps beforehand. Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the traditional beach and boating season, and is typically a very busy weekend on the water.
Consider these boating safety tips before leaving the dock:
Never boat under the influence (BUI):
It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. There are stringent penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail terms. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.
File a float plan:
Leave a detailed float plan with a friend or family member who is staying on shore. The sooner a craft can be reported overdue, the more likely a positive outcome will result. Facts need to be quickly and accurately conveyed in an emergency. Your float plan should include detailed information that rescue personnel need in order to find you. For examples of a float plan, and for more information, visit www.floatplancentral.org.
Wear a life jacket:
Life jackets save lives. In 2016, 80 percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those, approximately 83 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Accidents can leave even a strong swimmer injured, unconscious, or exhausted in the water.
Take a VHF-FM marine radio:
Cell phones may lose signal off shore and run out of batteries after a day on the water. They are helpful, but not reliable for emergencies. VHF-channel 16 is the marine emergency channel. It should only be used for emergencies. Boaters can reach the Coast Guard on marine-band radios at any time, day or night.
Monitor weather broadcasts:
Watch for current storm and small craft advisories. The National Weather Service broadcasts marine weather forecasts regularly. Forecasts can be heard by tuning in to channels 1 through 5 on a VHF marine radio or by checking the NWS website at www.weather.gov
Have a signaling device to communicate an emergency:
Boaters should have a signal flare, whistle, horn, or signal mirror, in addition to an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) to alert first responders to the location of a water emergency.
‘IF FOUND’ stickers for paddlecraft can be found at Coast Guard units and most marinas.These stickers, when placed visibly on a kayak, paddle board, or dinghy, help searchers contact the owner in case the item goes adrift. They can potentially save countless hours of search efforts and resources.