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Boating Safety Tips

By Don Seibert

Having a safe and fun day on the water simply requires a little planning and a heavy dose of common sense. Most boaters are so much about having fun on the water that they sometimes overlook some FUNdamentals. Since boating is such a pleasurable treat, it’s very easy to let your guard down. So here’s the plan for a great and safe day on the water.

Planning your voyage: Before leaving home, know where you are going, who will be with you, and when you expect to return. Obviously, if you are just going across the lake or up the river, this is a simple matter, but if your are going salt water fishing, it is critical that someone ashore knows where you are going and when you are expected to return – so that they can call for help if you turn up overdue.

Make sure your boat is seaworthy: Whether you are just going ‘for a spin’ or for a full day’s trip, it’s important to ensure that your boat is seaworthy (not taking on water), your engine is reliable, and you have the proper safety equipment on board. Your boat should never be overloaded with people or gear and the engine must be of adequate power to push the loaded boat through the worst possible conditions that you can imagine. Whatever bad weather you can expect, sometimes you just get really surprised!

Have the proper boat equipment, fuel and supplies: There are few worse experiences than being broken down or out of fuel in a boat well out of the sight of land. Before venturing out, make certain that you have enough fuel to go to the farthest point and back and still have half a tank to spare, taking into consideration the various marinas and fuel stops that may be along your planned route. Never leave the dock without, at a minimum, a Person Floatation Device (PFD) for each person in the boat and a throwable floating cushion as well. You must have a fire extinguisher of adequate size and type for the boat. The battery(s) must be fully charged and the bilge pump in good working order. Be sure that the boat’s blower, horn, and navigation lights are in good working order – even if you don’t intent to be out at night. Although it’s usually not a legal requirement in most states, you should always have an anchor and line of the size and length to enable you to safeguard the boat in the event of a breakdown. If you plan to be out of cell phone range, a marine radio is a must as is a GPS for navigation if you are going out to sea.

Have the proper people equipment, fuel and supplies! For you and your crew, be certain to have enough water, ice and snacks. A good sunscreen lotion is a must and the sun’s rays are greatly enhanced by the reflections off the water. Be sure to take the medical needs of your crew and guests, especially if someone is a diabetic, has a heart condition or other chronic condition. Of course, a good first aid kit is important. If alcoholic beverages are on the menu, make sure that nobody overdoes it, particularly anyone who will operate the boat. Since there are no lanes out on the water, other boaters can approach from any direction and the driver of the boat must be ever alert to traffic, wakes, and conditions. Most states now enforce a “Boating Under the Influence” law with serious consequences for those who overdo the alcohol and then risk their lives and those of their crew by driving a boat. It just pays to have a designated driver along.

Unexpected variables: Many things can come up to surprise you when you are out on the water, particularly the weather. Check out the weather forecast before leaving the dock so that you know what’s expected. Of course, storms are most likely to ‘pop up’ at any time, so it really pays to keep an eye to the horizon at all times. If you see a thunderhead approaching, you should not try to outrun it, but to take a course at a 90 degree angle from the direction of the storm. If you can get to a harbor or shoreline and tie up, that would be advised. If you cannot avoid being in the storm, stow all loose gear, just keep the bow of the boat pointed into the direction of the storm and give the engine enough gas to keep the bow raised to handle the wave action. My salty old Coast Guard chief petty officer used to say, “Boats are made for bad weather, people are not!” If it is in reasonably good condition, your boat will likely weather the storm very well. All of the SOB’s (Souls on Board) should put their PFD on at the first sighting of a bad storm – just to be safe. If people become ill during the rough weather, help them rest as much as possible.

If you will take the proper precautions and plan ahead just a little bit, your voyage on the water will be a whole lot of fun. Have a great cruise!

Resources: Don Seibert is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and has operated a large marina and boat dealership for the past 10 years. Don has been boating for more than 50 years.

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