There is nothing more relaxing than a lazy summer day on the water. The wind in your hair and the warm sun on your face is all the better. It’s a great way to spend time with friends and family, whether you are swimming, fishing, or waterskiing.
Boating safety is sometimes overlooked during summer trips, even though it should be. The Coast Guard reports that in 2019, there were over 4,000 boating incidents which resulted in more than 600 deaths and 2,500 injuries. There was also an estimated $55 million worth of property damage.
These accidents can be avoided if you take a few precautions. These seven rules will help you keep your summer pleasure cruise safe.
1. Do not drink or boat.
While many boaters wouldn’t consider drinking alcohol while driving a vehicle, they are more comfortable with having a beer on the water while in a boat. Drinking and boating can be as dangerous as driving can lead to serious legal consequences. Accounts for approximately one-third of all fatalities in recreational boating. These are some facts to remember about boating and drinking:
- Boating under the influence (BUI) is illegal in all 50 US states. It can also be considered a federal crime. The legal limit to operate a boat in most states is.08% blood alcohol, which is the same limit as for driving under the influence (DUI). Even if you feel “buzzed,” you are legally considered drunk in many cases. For a woman of 120 pounds, it would take two drinks to reach.08% alcohol level. A man of 240 pounds would need five drinks. You could achieve this level with less alcohol if your metabolism doesn’t handle alcohol well, has taken certain medications, has not eaten much, or are dehydrated. You could face severe penalties for boating while under the influence, depending on where you live. These include jail time, large fines, imprisonment, loss of driving privileges, financial restitution for injuries or damages, and a felony conviction.
- It can be more dangerous to drink alcohol on water than it is on land. Waves, vibration, engine noises, sun, wind, and spray can all increase alcohol’s effects and cause impairment. A boat operator can experience impaired coordination, judgment, and reaction time if they consume the same amount of alcohol. Even faster than if they were driving a car. Some of the effects of drinking or boating are:
- Cognitive impairment and loss of judgment.
- Inability to balance, coordination, vision, and reaction time.
- People who fall into the water may experience inner ear problems, which can make it difficult to tell up from down.
- A sensation of warmth that prevents someone in cold water from getting out before hypothermia occurs.
- Boat operators who have blood alcohol levels above.10% are more likely than those with a 0% blood alcohol content to drown in boating accidents. They also pose a greater risk of injury and death to their passengers, especially if they drink alcohol.
2. Always keep a life jacket on you.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, life jackets could have saved more than 82% of boating deaths— hundreds upon hundreds of people. Some states require that life jackets be accessible, not worn. In an emergency situation like a boating accident, there may not be time to get a life jacket. Modern life jackets are thin, lightweight, and compact, so you don’t have to worry about not wearing one every time you go on a boat.
Here are some boating rules to remember about life jackets
- The U.S. Coast Guard requires that all boats have a USCG-approved Life Jacket. It must be accessible, in good condition, and suitable for each person aboard. All boats over 16 feet must have a Type IV throwable device.
- All states require that children wear life jackets. Life jackets that are too big for adults won’t be suitable for children. They must fit comfortably and not allow their ears or chin to slide through. Your child’s life jacket should be USCG-approved. The life jacket should be held by the child so that the fit can be checked. If the jacket fits properly, your child’s ears and chin will not be exposed. You should test your child’s new life jacket in the water as soon as possible after it is purchased. Float testing is a great way to check the suitability and buoyancy of your child’s life jacket. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss boating safety with them and to teach them how to relax in the water while wearing it.
- Life jackets are required in many states for certain activities, such as water skiing or other towing activities.
- Life jackets must be tested at least once a year.
3. Be ahead of the game.
Make sure you take these essential safety precautions before you set sail.
- Learn and comply with the boating laws of your state. Many states require some form of boating safety certification, while others require a license. There are many states that have licensing or certification requirements for children below a certain age. Even if you don’t have to take a boating safety class in your state, it is worth considering. You may be able to find a course for free in your area or state.
- The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will perform a free Vessel Safety Inspection (VSC) on your boat. This service is free and without risk for recreational vessels.
- Make a float plan. List where you are going, who’s going with you, and when you will return. If you are unable to be there, email the document to a friend/family member who can start the search and rescue process.
- Do a pre-boarding safety check, which includes:
- Make sure you have enough gas, the correct oil and transmission fluid levels, and that your electronic gear is in good working order.
- After refueling, open your hatches and start the blower to check for fumes. Do not start the engine if you smell any fumes.
- Make sure to have your operator’s license or certificate and all documentation and registrations for the boat.
- Besides life jackets, you should also have other boat safety equipment such as a fire extinguisher and operable lights, extra batteries for lights, a floating pouch with maps, flares, and a first aid kit.
4. Be aware of inclement weather.
Always check the weather before you leave the dock. Even if the weather is nice, it can change quickly. You should always have a radio with you and keep an eye on inclement weather while out on the water. You should get off the water immediately if you see sudden wind shifts, dark sky, lightning, or choppy waters.
5. Take care of the propellers on your boat.
Anyone in the water can be seriously injured by boat propellers. Avoid propeller injuries
- Make sure everyone is in the boat before you start your engine. Also, make sure you walk around the boat so that no one is in the water. The boat’s helm may not always show people in the water.
- Be sure to supervise children when they are aboard. They shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the boat in an area where they might fall near the propellers. Stop the boat immediately if a child or adult falls onboard. Slowly turn the boat around and keep the person visible as you approach. A passenger should be assigned to monitor the person in the water. To ensure safety, turn off your engine before you bring the person aboard.
- Inform passengers about the danger of your propellers
- Do not allow anyone to board your boat or get out of it from the water while your engine is running.
- When approaching someone in the water, turn off your engine. Avoid swimming areas and avoid boats towing water skiers.
- Install a propeller guard and other safety devices, if necessary, for your boat type.
6. Respect others when you are on the water.
Be aware of swimmers and boaters, and keep your distance. Pay attention to the signs that direct you and follow the boating rules set forth by local authorities. When you are near other boats, swimmers, or the shore, keep your speed low.
7. You should know what to do if someone is going too far.
These boating safety tips will help you avoid drowning if your boat capsizes.
- Turn off the motor and propellers. Have someone get off the boat. If everyone is gone and the propellers or motor are still on, then your first priority should always be to get them out of the boat.
- Stay calm. Wear a life jacket and float to ensure everyone is safe. Look for a life jacket if you don’t have one. Do not attempt to take off clothing or footwear. Additional floatation can be provided by air trapped in clothing. Keep your life jacket on if you are wearing it. To help others, float on your back and paddle calmly and slowly.