It’s Time For Refresher On Boating/Water Safety

The beginning of summer sees folks from across the country visiting their favorite waterways to enjoy all the lakes, rivers and ponds have to offer. Some time ago, I was involved in a panel discussion the effects the outdoors has on us. This panel covered everything from why we fish/hunt to economic impacts of outdoor sports. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to take part in several such panels and many times they go in a different direction. This particular one, while very informative, went in the direction of safety.

As a licensed New York State hunting and fishing guide for more than 25 years, I have seen just about every mistake and been in situations on the water and in the field that most folks only have nightmares about.

Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths of U.S. children ages 1 to 14, second only to motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2012, U.S. Coast Guard statistics show 459 boaters drowned. More than 82 percent of them were not wearing life jackets.

“This is a preventable injury,” said Dr. Linda Quan, from Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Life jackets make sense. They save lives.”

Federal law mandates that boats carry life jackets for all passengers, but it does not require that they be worn. A patchwork of state laws governs life-jacket wear. In New York Sate the law is any child under12 years of age must have a PFD — personal floatation device — on at all times when on any boat anywhere. There are no exceptions — never ever. On my boats, whether we are fishing or going back and forth to a duck hunting honey hole, youth under the age of 17 have to keep their PFD on at all times. Remember this law and it will say lives. More on PFDs a little later.

Quan’s study found the average rate of life-jacket use overall was only 31 percent and just 21 percent in motorboats.

When legally mandated, however, boaters were two to three times more likely to wear life jackets, the study found. Life vest use was 80 percent among children 6 to 12 years old, 89 percent among children 5 and younger and nearly 97 percent among jet skiers

The PFDs on my boats are cost approved, and are called a Type 1. These jackets don’t need to be used by law on your recreational boat but they are best ones on the market and I will not pinch pennies when it comes to safety.

Life jackets come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they need to be worn, not just attached to the back of a seat or laying on the floor or stored away. Accidents happen at the most importune time and we generally don’t have time to put on a PFD. They aren’t going to save a life when they are stored away. Wear the dang life jacket.

You can’t always predict an emergency, so be prepared for any situation. Here a few items that you should have on any craft that is put on any body of water.

A flashlight and extra batteries can help you see around your boat in the dark and allow you to be seen if you run out of fuel or if your craft stalls. Spring a leak? Temporarily bandage the hole with duct tape. Even if the boat isn’t leaking, water may otherwise enter the vessel. A bucket can help you bail it out. A properly equipped first aid kit, plus the knowledge on how to use it, is vital in case of an accident or medical emergency. As a recognized signal calling for help on the water, a waterproof whistle is another must-have.

Ropes are critical for pulling someone in who has fallen overboard, securing your craft to the dock and tying down loose items in extreme weather. A mirror or any reflective object can signal for help. Just because you’re on the water doesn’t mean you can’t have an onboard fire. All passengers should know the location of your fire extinguisher and how to use it, and make sure it is the proper type for the putting fires out on your boat. You should have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for every person on board. Read on for information on picking out the right life jackets.

Now let’s back to the what I believe is the most important item any boat or craft put in the water. Life jackets do more than simply keep you afloat. Many are designed to turn an unconscious person face up and even help prevent hypothermia. By law, all boats must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. Some states also require children to wear life jackets at all times. Choose a life jacket that is right for your height and weight for the person that will be wearing it. Fasten the vest, hold your arms straight up over your head and have someone gently pull the top of the arm opening to make sure it fits snugly. Auto and manual inflatable life vests can turn an unconscious wearer face up, but they require regular maintenance. They’re also not recommended for children under 16 years of age. If you’re going fishing, look for a life jacket with pockets and straps to easily carry tackle and supplies. There are many types of life jackets on the market. Make sure the one you buy is appropriate for your on-water activity.

Always follow your boat’s capacity restriction. Overloading with passengers or equipment can unbalance your craft.

After refueling your boat, open all the hatches and smell for fumes. If detected, don’t start the engine. Carbon monoxide can accumulate in and around your boat and unexpectedly knock you or your guests unconscious. Be aware of all the places fumes and gases can accumulate. These can include inadequately ventilated canvas enclosures, enclosed spaces, blocked exhaust outlets and nearby boats or when your engine is idling, running at a slow speed or stopped.

Finally, know the rules of the road on the water — they aren’t much different than rules on the road — and take a certified boat safety class. Not just once, but as many times as it takes for us to remain safe. It’s important to use common sense, such as staying alert at all times, operating at a safe speed and ensuring that passengers stay safely within the boat’s railings.

Spending time on the water is special and can be dangerous, but when done safely there is no matter place to be than on the water. As a boat owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your passengers return to land in the same shape as they left. It’s a responsibility not to be taken lightly.


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