A Refresher Course On Boating, Water Safety

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

In 2019, U.S. Coast Guard statistics show over 236,000 folks drown worldwide. Each year 3,600 to 4,000 children and adults drown in the US.

“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 use.

In New York state, the law is simple, anybody under 12 years of age must wear a USCG-approved life jacket. A word of advice: a 60-pound child in an adult XL doesn’t work. Make sure all life jackets properly fit everybody on board.

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% among children 6-12 years old, 89% among children 5 and younger and nearly 97 percent among jet skiers

As a longtime angler and licensed NYS fishing guide, safety on the water is of prime importance on my crafts. The personal flotation devices on my boats are not only Coast Guard approved but what is called a Type 1. These jackets don’t need to be used on your recreational boats but are the best ones on the market.

Life jackets come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and need to fit properly. I recommend that life jackets are not just in the boat, but need to be worn. Keeping a PFD on the back of a seat, laying on the floor or stored away is not good enough. They must be worn to do what they are designed to do.

Accidents happen when we don’t use them, that is why they are called accidents. I have been in and watched situations where that wasn’t enough time to put on a PFD. Over the years and 10,000 of water time logged, I have come across and witnessed more accidents that I dare to share and to a time, if they didn’t have a life jacket on when the accident or incident happen, there wasn’t time enough to put one on. It was just too late.

PFDs aren’t going to save a life when they are stored away. Wear the dang life jacket.

For recreational boaters, being on the lake the first couple of times is like driving down Fairmount Avenue during the Christmas season. Remember the learning curve that we all experience after the first snow. For folks that don’t spend that much time at the helm, it can be a steep learning curve.

Proper boat maintenance is important. You all don’t want to be the one being towed into a dock. This likely means more use, and wear and tear on the boat. Some boats may have been recently launched and are simply not up to snuff yet. Regardless, now is the time to address the things that still need fixing, with extra attention paid to the electrical: battery, charging system, navigation lights; and the fuel system: fuel lines and fresh gas. With boat trailers, check tires for wear, bearings for grease and ensure all lights work.

The Christmas tree light effect we see each Fourth of July is exciting, but can be dangerous.. Each year after the fireworks shows end and boaters head home, traffic on lakes such as Chautauqua is very busy. Having spent many a Fourth of July watching fireworks on Chautauqua Lake, I know first-hand the boat traffic is at an all-time high.

Most folks keep their lights on, as you are supposed to while at anchor or floating during the evening hours. Often, the batteries on your boat will run down.

Don’t run down the battery playing music all day and be careful to avoid anchor line entanglements. On the way home, post extra lookouts, don’t take shortcuts and be patient at the launch ramp. Powerboats need to watch their wakes. With nightfall, the chance of accidents increases, so it’s a good idea to have everyone in life jackets.

Many boating guests are likely to be kids, but some vessels won’t have the right-sized life jacket aboard. It’s not only a law but all youth need to have a properly fitted life jacket on. Also, smaller boats are prone to overloading, leaving just a precious few inches of freeboard to prevent wakes and waves from coming aboard.

Just be sure alcohol doesn’t become a safety issue when you are on the water. Remember the same rules of the road are enforced on water has are on land. Waiting for to enjoy that adult beverage until you safely get back home ensures everyone will have a safe time.


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