In connection with National Safe Boating Week and Memorial Day, several organizations are urging boaters to practice safe and responsible boating.
Here are tips from the U.S. Coast Guard to help boaters have a safe and pleasant summer on the Chesapeake Bay:
Wear your life jacket: Almost three-quarters of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, nearly 90 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Accidents can happen very quickly, sometimes leaving no time to don a life jacket. More than 90 percent of boaters who drown were not wearing their life jackets.
Bow riding is when passengers unsafely remain on the bow of a recreational vessel while it is making way. This is inherently unsafe when the bow is not outfitted with the appropriate safety equipment for seating passengers, such as non-skid, railings or seats. Even while wearing a life jacket, a person who is sitting on the bow can be at risk of a propeller strike if they fall overboard.
Make a float plan: A float plan states where you are going and how many people are on board your vessel. It also gives a vessel description, details your destination and says what time you expect to arrive there. If you are delayed for some reason, make sure you let someone know.
Check the local weather: Weather can change very rapidly, and you should keep a watchful eye on the forecasted conditions. Check marine radio weather reports often to stay abreast of small craft advisories and current weather forecasts.
Know how to operate your equipment: Have up to date nautical charts of the area in which you are boating, a global positioning device and a reliable means of communication on board your vessel. VHF radio is the best method of communication while on the water. The Coast Guard monitors VHF channel 16. Although cell phones are a good backup, they can be unreliable due to gaps in coverage area and the inevitable dead battery.
Don’t drink and boat: Boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated is just as deadly as drinking and driving. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. Penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges, and jail terms.
Take care navigating at night and in unfamiliar waters: The most frequently reported boating accidents are collisions with other vessels, so it’s important to maintain a safe speed, post a lookout and ensure all navigation lights work. Spotlights can be very helpful, and ensure all safety gear is readily available and life jackets are worn. Be extra careful not to run over anchor lines in crowded areas, and don’t take shortcuts during periods of darkness.
Don’t overload your boat: Resist the urge to invite more friends or family aboard than what your boat was designed to carry. Heavily loaded small boats and those with little freeboard such as bass boats, are more susceptible to swamping from weather or wake action associated with heavy boating traffic.
All vessels must operate outside of 500 yards of U.S. Navy vessels. Violating the Naval Vessel Protection Zone is a felony offense, punishable up to 6 years in prison and/or up to $250,000 in fines.
Similar boating safety tips are offered from Maryland Natural Resources Police:
Generally boating safety relies on good judgment and safety precautions before departing from the dock. Boaters can help ensure their safety and the safety of others by remembering the acronym “SAFE”;
S – Survey or examine your boat’s hull, engine and navigational equipment for serviceability. Ensure the hull is sound and free of cracks, holes and defects. Inspect the vessel’s engine performance. Take it to a certified mechanic to ensure the engine is operating properly. Survey and examine all navigational lights, communication, radar, GPS and other electronic equipment to ensure that they are functioning properly.
A – Anticipate the needs of the trip prior to leaving the dock. Ensure fuel, clothing, and medical needs are met during the trip. Plan for unexpected events like severe weather or sudden storms.
F – File a float plan with a friend or relative. Tell someone where you are going, how long you plan to stay, and when you expect to return. This is vital information for rescuers searching for lost or overdue boaters.
E – Equipment. Ensure that all safety equipment is in good condition and sufficient quantity for the people on board the vessel. Basic equipment includes correct size and quantity of life jackets, fire extinguishers, visual distress signals (flares etc), and sound producing devices such as a whistle or horn.
For further boating safety information, check online at one of the following:
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: http://www.cgaux.org/
Vessel Safety Checks: http://www.vesselsafetycheck.org/
Coast Guard Boating Safety page: http://www.uscgboating.org/
National Safe Boating Council: http://www.safeboatingcouncil.org/