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How To Be A Safe Boater

Aug 18, 2007
You really have to wonder what Shirley and her friends were thinking as they roared their motorboat up and down the Mississippi River. First, they drank too much alcohol under the steady gaze of a hot July sun.

Then they forgot to check the gas gauge and ran out of fuel. Finally, drifting at the mercy of the river, they failed to put on their life jackets.

Is it any wonder that when the boat struck a barge and sank, the member of their group who could not swim drowned. Just a little clear-headed thinking could have prevented a tragedy.

In a recent reporting period, almost 700 people died in nearly 5,000 recreational boating accidents. To stay safely afloat:

Know The Basics

* Take a boating-safety class to learn basic seamanship skills. Nearly 70 percent of boating fatalities involve an operator who didn't complete such a course.

* To take a class, contact a local safe-boating organization, or the U.S. Coast Guard Information Line, (800) 368-5647, or visit the Coast Guard website.

* Know the rules and regulations of the area you will be navigating.

* Get a free vessel safety check and a list of recommended safety equipment from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadron. Make sure all items are on board and work.

* Before you cast off, be sure you have tools to make repairs.

* Be sure the boat is in top operating condition, with no tripping hazards, sharp edges exposed, or fire hazards.

* Maintain fuel and ventilation systems as directed in the owner's manual and state and federal requirements.

* Check the fuel system for leaks or signs of deterioration. Replace immediately a corroded fuel tank, or hoses that feel cracked, brittle, swollen, damp, or mushy.

* Heed regulations concerning fire extinguishers, and keep them in good condition and readily available.

* Give someone your itinerary.

* Close hatches and openings before fueling. Turn off electrical gear and appliances. No smoking.

* Fill tanks 90-95 percent full to allow for expansion. Fill portable tanks off the boat.

* After fueling, wipe up all spills. Open all hatches. For inboard engines, run the bilge blower at least four minutes before starting up.

* Never start the engine until all traces of vapors are eliminated. Your nose is your best detector.

* Check for power lines in your path before launching.

* About 25 percent of boating deaths involve alcohol. The marine environment accelerates impairment. Tests have shown only one-third the amount of alcohol that makes a person legally impaired on the road is enough to make a person equally impaired on the water. If someone does drink, use a designated driver.

Life Jackets Are A Must

* Over 50 percent of fatal accidents are due to capsizes and falls overboard. They usually result from overloading, poor weight distribution, high-speed maneuvers, leaning over the edge, and operator error.

* Almost 85 percent of people who drown in boating-related incidents were not wearing a life jacket. All occupants should have a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Make sure life jackets are selected and fitted for each passenger.

* If you stand up for any reason in a small boat, wear a life jacket.

* Don't sit on your life jacket when it is not in use. The weight could damage the protective shell.

* Test your life jacket annually.

* Children and nonswimmers should wear a life jacket on any small boat or near water.

Chart A Safe Course

* Be especially careful the first few trips of the season. Your skills might be rusty.

* Many accidents are the result of a collision with another boat or an object in the water, such as rocks, pilings, or debris. Stay alert. Use many of the same defensive measures you employ to drive a car.

* The overwhelming majority of capsizings occur on small boats because of sudden weight shifts. Move carefully and cautiously. Everyone should remain in their seats while the boat is in motion.

* Travel at safe speeds. Avoid sudden and sharp high-speed turns.

* Give swimmers, skiers, and divers plenty of distance. Be especially alert near boat docks.

* Before heading out, check the latest local weather forecast.

* Head for shore when the weather turns bad. Everybody should immediately don a life jacket. Sudden wind shifts and choppy water can mean a storm is brewing.

* Carry a portable radio for weather reports. A cellular phone, and a marine radio when venturing far from shore, are good additions.

* If your boat capsizes, don't panic. Stay with the boat.

* Don't boat alone.

* Wear your life jacket. It floats - you don't.
About the Author
John Myre is the author of the award-winning book, Live Safely in a Dangerous World, and the publisher of the Safety Times Reproducible Articles..
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