Safety Tips While You're Out on the Local Waterways:
- Remember to look out for others as they would look out for you.
- What accident causes the most deaths among boaters? Falls overboard and capsizing. In a small boat, resist the urge to stand up. If you must move around, keep your weight low and close to the center of the craft
- Wear your Personal Floatation Device (PFD or Life Jacket), especially in small boats. Approved PFD's are now stylish, comfortable and practical. Models are available for all ages and for various boating activities. Wearing your PFD is the best "life insurance" policy afloat.
- Collisions with a second boat or another object don't just happen... they are usually the result of inattention, fatigue, and a lack of knowledge about local weather conditions.
- Keep a close eye on the weather, especially on larger lakes. Obtain up-to-date weather information from a marine band radio, AM radio, checking the on-line weather on this website, or by simply watching the sky. If you are caught in rough weather, put on your PFD, keep low in your boat and head for the closest shore. In heavy waves, your boat handles best if you head into the waves at an angle.
- Inflatable toys are no substitutes for swimming skills. Learn how to swim. Know your swimming ability. Supervise youngsters around the water.
- If someone is in trouble in the water, use elementary rescue methods first, such as throwing something that floats to the victim. Only as a last resort should you ever enter the water to save someone. Even then, take a buoyant object like a PFD with you.
- Before you leave on a boating or fishing trip, let someone know where you are going and when you will return. If you run into a little trouble, this will assist authorities in looking for you.
- Cold water robs body heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature, so if you capsize or fall out of your boat, immediately attempt to reboard your craft. Most small boats if overturned, can be righted and bailed out. In fact, modern small craft have built-in flotation that will support the weight of the occupants, even after capsizing or swamping. If you can't right the boat, climb on top and hang on.
- Wearing your PFD will help protect you from hypothermia in several ways. It decreases the amount of movement necessary to remain afloat, and it also helps to insulate you from heat loss. A PFD will also keep you afloat if you become unconscious due to hypothermia.
- Alcohol also adversely affects vital body functions such as balance, coordination, vision and judgement. Combining the effects of cold water and alcohol can speed the onset of hypothermia (a dangerous cooling of the body's inner temperature), causing even good swimmers to drown in minutes - often within a few yards of safety.
- Even without drinking, four hours of exposure to environmental stressors such as sun, wind, noise, vibration and temperature producs a kind of boater's hypnosis which can slow your reaction time almost to these levels as if you were drunk. Adding alcohol to these stressors intensifies their effects to a perilous level.
Get Some Training
- Before putting to sea, for your family's sake, you MUST acquire basic skills in Seamanship, Navigation, Rules of the Road, use of safety equipment and boat/engine maintenance.
- Your skills, and those of your crew, are your greatest asset, particularly if things go wrong.
- Join a suitable sailing or boating club.
- Purchase the Chapman Piloting book or CD-ROM (see above).
What to do before setting off
- Check the weather forecast by:
- Listening to the shipping or local radio forecast or by tuning into the Weather Channel or your local TV station.
- Checking the latest marine forecast (Marine Weather on this site).
- Telephoning the Coastguard or listening to the weather reports on the VHF.
- Check the condition of the boat and its equipment
- Ensure the engine is well maintained. Carry a tool kit and essential spares
- Ensure safety equipment is provided for all on board
- Check on local conditions (i.e. tide races, areas of shallow water, etc.) and know the boating laws for your area
- Obtain relevant charts and tide tables
- Plan the trip:
- How long will it take?
- Who will keep watch?
- What access do you have to safe havens en route?
- What are the alternatives?
- Float-plan considerations
- File a float plan with someone you can trust. The Coast Guard recommends a friend, family member or other responsible party.
- Include departure and arrival times
- Point of destination and route
- Description of the boat
- Names of all persons on board and a contact number ashore.
- If you change any of the above, remember to inform your contact ashore and be sure to call when you are safely back into port.
- Ensure that parked vehicles and trailers do not obstruct slipways or access for emergency vehicles/lifeboats and are above the high water mark
- Know your limitations:
- Sail within your own ability and that of your crew
- Ensure you have sufficient experienced crew for the trip, particularly if it is overnight
- Know the limitations of your boat
- Do not overload the boat as it will make it unstable
Be Safe Afloat
- Lifejackets and safety harnesses are essential and should be provided for everyone on board. They could ensure your survival, but only if worn. Last year, in the U.S., 80% of all boating fatalities involved people who were not wearing life jackets.
- Ensure sets of warm and protective clothing are available including sunglasses
- Everyone must know what to do in a man overboard situation... It could be YOU
- Advice on carrying additional safety equipment can be obtained from the United States Coat Guard (http://www.uscg.mil)
How to Attract Attention in an Emergency
- A VHF radio, which can be a portable (limited range, however), will enable you to summon help by calling the Coastguard on channel 16. This may also alert other vessels in your vicinity who may be able to provide assistance. If you are in an emergency situation involving injury or potential loss of property, issue a Mayday call on channel 16. Do NOT allow anyone other than the Coast Guard to move you to a different frequency.
- If you use a VHF radio you no longer need to obtain an operators license if it is only used for recreational purposes.
- Carry a portable foghorn and use the whistle fitted to your lifejacket to attract attention if necessary.
Some Necessary Items for your Boat
- A set of oars or a small auxiliary outboard are advisable
- A spare can of fuel is essential and should be clearly marked if different types are carried (i.e. gas or diesel)
- Always carry a tow-rope and ensure you have a strong towing point in the fore end of the boat
- Ensure your anchor and chain/cable is in working order and is of adequate length for the area which you are sailing
- Day and night distress flares are essential, instructions for their safe use are printed on the side, read these and understand them... it is too late on a dark and stormy night
- A first aid kit and basic first aid knowledge can prove invaluable until professional assistance arrives.
- Carry an in-date fire-extinguisher on board at all times
- Allways have a water-bailing system and equipment in place
- A radar reflector will assist with detection by other vessels, particularly in reduced visibility
- Keep all your essential small gear in a watertight container
- In any sort of emergency, call the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16.
Always Be Aware
- Keep a good look out at all times and be aware of your surroundings
- Be sensible about drinking alcohol it will impair your judgement
- If you smoke be extremely careful, a fire at sea can be disastrous
- Always turn cooking gas bottles off at source when not in use.
Keep an Eye on the Weather & Sea Conditions at ALL times
- Do not press on regardless of weather. Make for a safe haven in good time
- If in doubt, call for help... don't wait until it's too late!
- Remember - it is easier to find you and provide assistance in daylight than in darkness. An on-board GPS will provide invaluable position information should you ever need assistance. With ever decreasing cost, it's strongly recommended that every boater have a GPS on board.
A few sobering facts about Alcohol & Boating:
Alcohol is involved in about half of all boating accidents. In fact, a recent Coast Guard study proved that a boater with a blood alcohol concentration of .10% is ten times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than one who is sober!
Over 1,000 people die in boating accidents every year. Nine out of ten of them drown. About half those deaths involve alcohol. It's a tragic fact and not a joke, but 50% of drunk men who drown have their fly unzipped. Enough said.
Four hours of exposure to powerboat noise, vibration, sun glare, wind and motion produces a kind of "boater's hypnosis." This slows reactions almost as much as being legally drunk. Adding alcohol to this sun exposure intensifies the effects.
Sometimes just a couple of beers are too many. When your "tipsy" you're much more likely too fall over board. Alcohol also reduces your body's ability to protect against cold water. So within minutes you may not be able to call for help, or swim to safety. Actually, a drunk person whose head is immersed can be confused and swim down to death instead of up to safety.