What could be more enjoyable than an afternoon on the water—the wind in your hair, the warm sun on your face and the cool spray on your skin? Top it off with a little fishing, swimming or even water skiing, and it makes for great times with family and friends.
Yet boating safety sometimes takes a backseat during summer outings, as every year thousands of Americans are killed or injured and millions of dollars of property is damaged from boating accidents. Most of these accidents are preventable with just a few simple precautions. To prevent your cruise from taking a wrong turn, check out these boating rules every boater should know and follow.
Don’t drink and boat
Many boaters would never consider drinking alcohol while driving a car, but are more casual about drinking an adult beverage while behind the wheel of a boat. However, drinking and boating can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving. In fact, it is still drinking and driving! Here are some important facts about drinking and boating to keep in mind:
- Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol (BUI) is illegal in all 50 states—and can also be a federal crime. In most states the legal limit for operating a boat is .08 percent blood alcohol level, the same as the limit for driving under the influence (DUI). Your best bet if you plan to get behind the wheel of a boat, car or any other vehicle is to just not drink.
- Alcohol can be even more hazardous on water than on land. Adding sun exposure to the mix, alcohol can impact a boat operator’s coordination, judgement and reaction time even faster on the water than if he or she was driving a car.
Follow boating rules, and always wear a life jacket
The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of more than 80 percent of boating fatality victims—hundreds of people each year.
- The U.S. Coast Guard requires boats to have a USCG-approved life jacket that is accessible, in good serviceable condition and of an appropriate size for each person on board. Boats 16 feet and longer are also required to have a Type IV throwable device on board.
- All states require children to wear life jackets. Make sure your child’s life jacket is USCG-approved and designed for their weight range.
- Many states require wearing life jackets for certain activities such as water skiing or other towed activities.
- Life jackets should be tested at least once each year. Life jackets that are worn out or have lost their buoyancy should be discarded.
Prepare ahead of time and learn the ropes
Before you boat, take a few essential precautions to keep your outings safe and legal.
- Understand and follow the boating laws in your state. Most states require some type of boating safety certification and some require a boating license.
- Have the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary perform a free Vessel Safety Check (VSC) on your boat.
- Have a plan. Document where you’re going, who is going with you and when you plan to return. Email the document to a friend or family member who can be responsible for starting the search and rescue process if you don’t return when expected.
- Perform a pre-boarding boat safety check:
- Ensure that you have a full tank of gas, correct engine oil and transmission fluid levels, a fully-charged battery, full fluid levels, and electronic gear in good condition. Also be sure that all other components of your boat are working properly and in good condition.
- After you refuel, open your hatches and run the blower to sniff for fumes. If you smell fumes, don’t start the engine.
- Make sure you have your operator’s certificate or license and any registration or documentation for the boat onboard, waterproof and current.
- In addition to life jackets, have other boat safety equipment onboard including a fire extinguisher, operable boat lights, extra batteries for the lights and a floating pouch that includes a cell phone, maps, flares and a first aid kit.
Watch for inclement weather
Never leave the dock without first checking the local weather—as well as your destination forecast, if applicable. Beware that weather can change rapidly, even if it’s nice out when you leave the dock. Always bring a radio and continue to keep an eye out for inclement weather once you’re on the water. If you notice sudden wind shifts, dark skies, lightning or choppy water, get off the water as soon as possible.
Practice boat propeller safety
Boat propellers can inflict major injury on anyone in the water. To avoid propeller injuries:
- Before you start your engine, make sure all of your passengers are accounted for in the boat. Also walk around the boat to make sure no one is in the water near the boat. People in the water may not always be visible from the boat’s helm.
- Watch children carefully while onboard. Don’t allow them to sit in an area of the boat from which they could fall near the propellers. If a child or adult falls overboard, stop the boat immediately.
- Let passengers know about the location and danger of your propellers.
- Don’t allow anyone to board or exit your boat from the water when your engine is on or idling.
- Shut off your engine when approaching anyone in the water.
- Use a propeller guard and other safety devices if appropriate for your type of boat.
Be courteous to others on the water
Stay mindful of other boaters and swimmers, and keep a safe distance. Follow the directions posted on signs and observe the boating rules established by the local authorities or property owners. Keep your wake low when near other boats, swimmers, or the shore.
Know what to do if someone goes overboard
If the boat capsizes or someone falls overboard, follow these boating safety tips:
- Turn off the motor and propellers. If someone is still on the boat, have them turn them off. If everyone has gone overboard and the motor or propellers are still on, your first priority should be to get everyone away from the boat.
- Remain calm. If you’re wearing a life jacket, float without using too much energy and check to make sure everyone else is safe. If you’re not wearing a life jacket, look for a life jacket or other floating safety device. Don’t try to remove clothing or footwear. Air trapped in clothing can provide additional floatation. If you’re wearing a life jacket, keep it on. Float on your back and paddle slowly and calmly to help others to safety
Contact Merriam Insurance today to learn more.