Boating Safety Tips to Keep You Afloat Longer

Whenever it’s boating season, the U.S. Coast Guard expresses concern over increases in boating fatalities and injuries, and plans to step up its safety education for boaters. Statistics show that boating fatalities increased from 2013 to 2014 (610 deaths in 2014) as did the number of reported injuries. The reports also reveal some other disturbing facts:
 
  • More than three-quarters of all fatalities were due to drowning, and 84 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket. Simply put, more than half of boating deaths could have been prevented if the victims had worn a life jacket.
  • Alcohol was the leading contributing factor in approximately one-fifth of all boating fatalities.
  • More than 70 percent of all boating fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
  • Overall, operator inattention, carelessness/reckless operation, excessive speed and passenger/skier behavior are the leading contributing factors of all reported accidents.
 
Here are some simple tips boat owners and their passengers can take to ensure their safety while enjoying recreational boating:

Wear your life jacket: As evidenced above, wearing a life jacket is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your safety on the water. And it doesn't matter how great of a swimmer you are, you should still wear a life jacket!

Take boating safety courses: Boat owners, operators and passengers should complete courses offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and others. The Coast Guard Auxiliary encourages everyone who might be put in a position of having to take command due to incapacity of the owner/operator to take a basic safety course.

America’s Boating Course (ABC) is an electronic, basic boating course produced through a partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons. It’s available online at www.AmericasBoatingCourse.com.

Get a free Vessel Safety Check: Boat owners are encouraged to take advantage of free safety checks offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. It’s your best way to learn about potential problems that might put you in violation of state or federal laws, or — worse — create danger for you or your passengers on the water. Visit www.vesselsafetycheck.org.

Vessel Examiners issue no citations. And there are no penalties for not successfully completing a Vessel Safety Check.

Don't drink and boat: In the marine environment — motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray intensify the effect of alcohol and drugs. These “stressors” cause fatigue — and dramatically affect a boat operator’s coordination, judgment, vision and reaction time.

Levels of blood alcohol or medications that would have little impact on land can potentially cause a much greater degree of impairment for the operator of a boat. So never boat under the influence!

Watch the skies: Make sure you monitor the weather forecast and leave a float plan with someone on shore who can call the Coast Guard if you are overdue.  A “float plan” will give details of your expected location and timing in order to assist any potential search and rescue operations that might be necessary should you run into trouble.  Leave such a plan with someone dependable.

Be wary of fire: Proper Coast Guard-approved fire extinguishers should be strategically placed on board the boat.  It makes sense to place more than required for the size of the vessel.  Put them in the rear (stern) and bow, as well as at the helm, for example.  The idea is to avoid having the extinguisher on the other side of the fire.

Stock up: Properly equip your boat with safety devices such as a first aid kit, flares, a tool kit, spare parts, a flashlight, navigation lights, and a whistle, horn or bell. 

Before setting out, review your insurance coverages with your agent.  While canoes, small sail boats and boats equipped with motors that are less than 25 mph are generally covered under a homeowners or renters insurance policy, larger and faster boats (including jet skis and wave runners) require a separate boat insurance policy.  A typical policy will cover bodily injury (to others), property damage (for damage to someone else's property), medical payments and theft.  Boat owners may also consider purchasing an umbrella liability policy for additional protection for their car, home and boat.

Meemic offers discounts to boat owners who have completed Power Squadrons or Coast Guard Auxiliary-approved safety courses. NOTE: Meemic boat insurance is only available in Michigan.

Boating can be an excellent and rewarding recreational activity.  Doing it responsibly will ensure years of smooth sailing.  Anchors away!