I grew up in a very small town in northern New York on a beautiful lake where many people enjoyed boating, water skiing, and fishing. As you can imagine, living in this lake community was ideal for both the young and the old. I often heard about the big fish that were caught, the family picnics held around various camps and public beaches, and the life guards who gave swimming lessons to young kids. But the stories that impacted me most were the water and boating accidents, and the loss of life that occurred during my 25 years of living in the community. I remember those tragedies well because they involved people I knew from school or the community. I look back now and ask myself if those water accidents could have been avoided, or at the very least, been less severe.
Many of these tragedies stemmed from poor choices and lack of knowledge: believing that being a good swimmer was good enough and a life vest was not needed; failing to share with family or friends where they were going or when they would be back; failing to check the lights before boating back after dusk and crashing into a rocky area; or paying no attention to the weather forecast before boating and losing the oars due to bad weather and choppy waters. I learned to employ several safety tips based on these terrible real-life experiences. Here are seven tips that can help ensure the safety of you and your loved ones out on the water:
- Create a “Float Plan”. Let a friend know when you’re leaving, where you’re going, when you expect to return, and what to do if you don’t. Be sure to provide them with a description of your boat.
- Wear a life vest or personal flotation device (PFD). Make sure it’s U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good condition, readily accessible, and properly fitted. Assign a PFD to each person on board.
- Engage the boat’s navigation lights. Be sure they’re in working order before you leave and keep spare bulbs on hand as backup.
- Keep a paddle or an oar on board in case the motor quits.
- Confirm the boat operator has completed their mandatory boat safety course.
- Avoid alcohol while boating.
- Insure your boat with proper limits for bodily injury and property damage, medical payments and physical damage.
Other safety items you should consider when boating:
- Fire extinguishers – confirm quantity, size, and class for your specific size of boat, and check to make sure that it’s properly charged, free of corrosion, mounted correctly, and easily accessible
- Visual Distress Signals such as flares, lights or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)
- Anchors and line
- Bilge pump or alternative bailing device
- Watch or clock
- Bright flashlight or searchlight
- Fresh batteries
- Horn or whistle
- FCC license (required if you have a VHF radio, radar, EPIRB or other transmitter aboard)
- First Aid Kit
- Tools (you may want to include spare props and lock nuts/pins)
Although a boater’s safety course may not be mandatory in all states, it provides essential knowledge for anyone operating a watercraft. It’s also very important to make sure your boat insurance is current and the policy meets your state guidelines. So, before taking to the water this summer, contact your local independent agent to discuss your insurance needs. Most importantly, always have a plan, and even a back-up plan, when having fun in and around the water. Do you have any safety tips you’d like to contribute? Please share them in the comments below!