Boating is popular year round in Florida. This time of year boaters are taking to the rivers, lakes and oceans from coast to coast. It just breaks my heart when I read news stories about boaters who suffer serious injuries and even death because, for whatever reason they didn’t follow good safety practices.
I saw a story about three friends out in the evening to enjoy the weather and lights on shore when they crashed their 23-foot boat into a 36-footer with its anchor lights on and occupants asleep. Fortunately, no one on board the anchored boat was injured, but one of the passengers on the small boat died. Officials were uncertain what caused the crash, but had sufficient reason to take a blood sample from the operator of the smaller craft.
While this incident is very sad, it does corroborate what the U.S. Coast Guard detailed in its latest report on boating accidents. The top five contributing factors to boating accidents are: excessive speed, lack of experience on the part of the operator, not paying attention, not maintaining a proper lookout and machinery failure.
Last year, the Coast Guard reported 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries and more than $39 million of property damage as a result of boating accidents. Even though boating accidents were down compared to the previous year, those Coast Guard numbers got my attention. So what can we do to avoid becoming one of those statistics?
If you are new to boating, please consider taking a boating safety course. Information is easily accessible online. The same is true of vessel safety checks, -- not only what the maker of your boat suggests but also what the Coast Guard recommends. Be vigilant about maintaining your vessel and making sure that things like flares and fire extinguishers are kept up to date.
Canoeing, kayaking and paddle-boarding have grown in popularity across the country, as well. If you enjoy one of these sports, make sure you know what your limits are so you don’t find yourself out at sea and out of personal gas or short on daylight.
Carbon monoxide or CO is sometimes referred to as the silent killer. It is a potentially lethal boating danger despite the fact that boating is an outdoor endeavor. Make sure that any vessel with a cabin has a CO detector as well as a smoke alarm, particularly those with a generator.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but please don’t mix boating and booze. The Coast Guard notes that alcohol use is even more hazardous on the water than on land. It is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. The marine environment – motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray – accelerates a drinker’s impairment. A boater with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 per cent is estimated to be more than 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration. Please note the key word there is "die."
Yes, there are differences in life jackets. As with so many things, you get what you pay for. Some are designed to keep your head above water and help you remain in a position permitting proper breathing. The last thing you or your crew would want to be thinking as you are floating in the Gulf, hoping to be rescued is, "I wish I had spent the money for a better life jacket."
No, adult life jackets won’t work for kids. Each adult and child on board must have one that fits them. They should be tested for buoyancy and checked for wear at least once a year and properly stowed when not in use.
A “Float Plan” is a great way to let family and friends know your boating plants. Whether you are heading out for a day on the lake or a two week cruises to the Keys, be sure that you complete a float plan before casting off.
I realize that despite your best efforts to equip and maintain your vessel properly and everyone’s best intention to be careful, boating accidents can happen. In those instances, remember Federal Law requires the boat operator to file a boating accident report with our state reporting agency, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), at: http://myfwc.com.
The Coast Guard’s website, http://www.uscgboating,org, has a great deal more information on boating safety and available courses.
Have a great time boating this summer, and please be safe.
Barb Hansen manages Southwest Florida Yachts, yacht charters and Florida Sailing & Cruising School, a liveaboard yacht school. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (239) 257-2788.