In 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 4,604 boating accidents, which resulted in 672 deaths. Three-fourths of those deaths were due to drowning. Even though the U.S. Coast Guard requires a life jacket for everyone on-board, 88 percent of those who drowned in 2010 from a boating accident were not wearing a life jacket. The boat captain (or driver) being unaware or inexperienced and alcohol are the top reasons for boating accidents.
All boats require safety equipment. Different boats and locations require different safety preparations. For example, on Memorial Day weekend out at Grand Lake in Oklahoma, it probably isn’t necessary for us to carry an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon), but my island hopping friends in the Caribbean do need one. However, basic boating safety is universal.
You Need More Than Your Flippy Floppies
Before heading out for a pleasant day out on the water, make sure your boat is stocked with fresh drinking water, a handheld radio, daytime and night time signals, a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, a leak plug kit, and a life jacket for each person on-board. It is federal law that each person aboard a boat has a Type I, II, III, IV, or V life vest. Life vests differ in size between adult and youth, so be sure to have both options available. My cousin, who has both a powerboat and a sailboat, also keeps life-saving rings on board. Depending on where you launch and how long you plan to be gone, a GPS and weather-appropriate gear—such a foul weather gear or warmer clothing—may also be necessary.
Each state has a different set of rules for different sized boats—what types of lighting, horns, distress signals and other safety equipment is required. Please check your local laws before heading out on the water. The U.S. Coast Guard has an online booklet to make sure your boat meets all regulations.
Besides checking the condition of your boat, stocking it for emergencies, and filling up with gas, you should also check the weather, currents, tides, wind, and fog. Conditions can turn unfavorable quickly. Bad weather and hazardous water account for 25 percent of boating accidents.
Most Exposure Injuries are Preventable
In the top five causes of boating accident deaths in 2010, hypothermia is fourth. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below levels that allow your body to function. This can occur when exposed to cold weather or if you fall into water that is 70 degrees or below. The symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, a slow or weak pulse, and slow respiration. If someone falls off the boat into cold water, you must remove him or her quickly. To treat them, you need to warm their body back up. Remove wet clothing and replace it with dry clothes, wrap them in a blanket, and cover their head and neck. You may apply warm—not hot—compresses to their chest, neck and groin. You may give them warm liquids to make sure they stay hydrated.
During the summer when temperatures reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, overheating, dehydration and sunburn are concerns. While out on the water, drink plenty of fresh water to stay hydrated, especially if you are drinking alcohol. (Remember to always designate a sober driver!) Take periodic dips in the water to cool off. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of 15 SPF or higher. A 45 SPF sunblock will block 98 percent of the sun’s damaging rays. Dermatologists suggest anything higher than 45 SPF is unnecessary, as nothing will block the sun 100 percent.
Reapply after swimming and every two hours. Further, you can wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves to prevent sunburn.
Heatstroke or sunstroke can happen when the temperature is as low as 80 degrees. Someone suffering from a heat-related illness will feel faint, weak or dizzy. Their skin will most likely be hot and dry. They may even stop sweating. Muscle cramps, headache, fever, and vomiting are also common. Remove the person from direct sunlight and place them in the shade. It is important to rehydrate them; have them take sips of cool water or a sports drink such as Gatorade. You may also cool them down with cool compresses.
To keep cell phones, cameras and documentation dry, keep a few different sized waterproof dry bags onboard.
Two good practices to get into if you are a boat owner is to ask each passenger if they know how to swim. If they do not, require them to wear their life vest. Second, bring along an additional passenger who knows how to operate your boat. If for some reason, you or the boat captain becomes ill or unable to drive, your second operator can safely return the boat to dock.
Why Not Take a Boating Safety Course?
The U.S. Coast Guard estimates 22.2 million boat owners in the United States, including self-propelled boats such as canoes and kayaks. Of those owners participating in the 2012-2013 National Recreational Boating Survey, a little less than half reported taking a boating safety course. Whether you have just purchased your first boat, plan to rent one for the weekend or are a seasoned boater, why not commit to taking a boating safety course this summer? The BoatU.S. Foundation offers a free online boating safety course that meets the U.S. Coast Guard’s minimum requirements for the National Recreational Boating Safety Program.
Besides life vests and other required safety equipment, what is one item you never leave shore without? Tell us in the comment section.