How to Avoid Boating Accidents 101

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Ready to hitch up your boat and enjoy the lulling waves? Summer is but a few months away and just like you, we’re hopeful that when spring is eventually over, we’ll be able to enjoy the sunshine and salty waters too. While we’re at home during these times, it’s better to have something to look forward to anyway! But while this activity is extremely fun and enjoyable, boating accidents can happen, especially when overcome with revelry. That’s why we’re here to offer some foresight and help you avoid dampening the fun with sailing mishaps.

How to Avoid Boating Accidents

Take a Boating Safety Course

We’ve got convincing statistics for you. Data from the U.S. Coast Guard reveals that an astounding 90% of deaths from boating accidents were aboard boats whose operators did not have any training in boating safety whatsoever. Those involving boat operators with boating-safety certificates accredited by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) or the U.S. Coast Guard account only for 7%.

It always pays to be updated on all the newest, safest boating techniques and procedures. More knowledge means making better navigating decisions, especially in challenging situations. Knowledge and experience can be the difference between saving or losing a life. At the very least, it will go a long way towards avoiding boating accidents and injuries, and knowing what to do when experiencing one.

Complete Safety Equipment

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the cause of death in more than 70% of boating accident fatalities is drowning, those not wearing life jackets account for more than 85% of these deaths.

Life jackets and other PDFs or Personal Flotation Devices must always be kept on board, in good condition, and on hand–readily accessible to every passenger and can be put on properly in a short amount of time when in an emergency. 

PDFs should also be available in enough numbers and different sizes so there’s properly-fitting equipment for every passenger. Children below 12 are advised to always have a life jacket on when aboveboard. The elderly, frail, and those who do not know how to swim should also do the same. (Although, we would say that for their own safety, those who don’t know how to swim should really learn before they go near a boat.)

Aside from life jackets and PDFs, the following must always be present on board: a first-aid kit, signaling device, emergency supplies, and survival kit, marine fire extinguisher, anchor, and basic repair kit.

Prepare for Emergencies

Aside from operational and safety training, one must also practice and prepare for emergencies. Prepare yourself to be ready to handle emergencies by training responses to different emergency scenarios. What will you do if the boat stops running, a passenger is thrown overboard, you suddenly encounter turbulent weather or the boat catches fire?

An emergency plan is an essential part of safe boating. A clear and rational mind is another. Remember that anything can happen in a moment’s notice and proper and immediate execution of policies already in place may be all that can avoid a boating accident and even save lives.

Keep Machinery and Equipment in Proper Order

Boat machinery and equipment failure are also frequent causes of boating accidents, injuries, and death in the U.S. Just like your land vehicle, an improperly maintained boat will eventually fail and can put you in a dangerous situation. Unlike road vehicles, though, you can’t simply pull over by the roadside and call for help if you are in a boat with nothing but water all around. 

Routine check-ups and proper maintenance to keep the vessel in full working order can go a long way towards saving you from such a dangerous situation. Most importantly, a thorough safety check must always be performed before heading out into the water.

Knowledge of how the boat machinery works and training in basic repairs can also come handy in the event of a breakdown. Having a simple motor repair kit onboard for small emergency repairs will save you from having to wait for rescue. This kit should contain tools like screwdrivers, wrenches, spare screws, nuts and bolts, pliers, spark plugs and fuses, battery terminal puller, electric tape, hose clamps, duct tape, and the like.

Mind the Weather

Always check the weather before the trip and monitor water conditions before you head out. It’s even a good idea to ask returning boaters how the weather and water conditions. They’ll undoubtedly be able to tell you the freshest update. It’s highly recommended to go boating only in optimal weather. If this is not the case, waiting for another to be safe is wise.

When on the water, constantly monitor the weather and stay alert for any changes so you are not left unprepared in a tricky position. Even if the day started with blue skies and warm sunshine, remember that that can change rather quickly, especially in monsoon season.

Winds, fog, rough waters, and storms are threats to look out for. A sudden change in the following are bad signs: wind speed and direction, drop in temperature, lightning in the horizon, and thickening and lowering flat clouds. Even sudden heavy static on the A.M. radio can be taken as a sign of an incoming thunderstorm. 

Return to shore as soon as you notice these signs of inclement weather. If that’s not possible, seek shelter in the cabin, if you have one. Otherwise, stay as low as possible and do not touch electrical devices and metal objects.

Check the Water Conditions

Aside from the weather, water conditions should be monitored. Strong currents and congested waterways, resulting in missing navigation tools, turbid areas, etc., are considered hazardous.

Holidays, school breaks, and weekends are especially prone to these hazardous water conditions associated with congestion. It’s a good idea to avoid these times, if possible. You may not be able to spend the peaceful time you were wanting if there’s not enough room for much more than just floating around in the water anyway. 

Educate All Passengers

It’s not only the operator that should be well-versed in boating safety. There aren’t official rules of the road (or water, in this case) but guests and passengers should at least know some basic safety precautions and proper etiquette while onboard your vessel.

Before heading out, make sure that each passenger knows where they can access their personal floatation devices, can get to them fairly quickly, and knows how to put them on properly.

It’s also important to ask your guests to avoid distracting or disturbing others on board. If you’re on a family trip, be sure that the children are well-supervised. If you’re out on a party boat trip, limit the spirits and ban downright dangerous activities. 

Not only will this keep your passengers and guests safe, but it can also help shield you from liability if an accident caused by a passenger does occur.

Do Not Overload 

Load passengers and gears carefully. Improper weight distribution, overloading, improper anchor placement, and other loading problems account for a good number of boating accidents. 

Before handing out invitations to your boat party or fishing trip, double-check the weight and passenger capacity of your boat from the manufacturer itself. Follow boating and loading guidelines properly. You don’t want to run the risk of capsizing your boat when you should be leisurely enjoying the warmth of the sun and enjoying time with friends.

Exceeding carrying capacity is a no-no. Mechanical malfunctions can occur, there might not be enough lifejackets on hand and capsizing the boat is a real possibility. These are just a few scenarios. And not only is an accident likely to happen, but you’ll also have a very high number of casualties in the event.

Be a Responsible Driver

Reckless behavior is a major cause of boating accidents that is completely avoidable. We can’t stress this enough. Boat safety must be at the forefront of a boat operator at all times. Weather changes, rough waters, mechanical problems, and the like can’t be a hundred percent under your control but behavior as the boat operator certainly is.

No Speeding

Excessive and dangerous driving speed is up there as a major contributor to boating accidents resulting in injuries and deaths. Just like on land, speed limits, and regulations on the water should always be enforced and obeyed. Especially don’t go faster than your vessel can handle. Navigational, speed, and directional aids and buoys should always be followed when in the water with your boat.

One should also consider the time of day, water conditions, and other boats and recreational vehicles in the water. Is the sun shining bright or is it so dark and foggy that you might not see another boat 10 ft away? How many boats, surfers and jet skiers are on the water? How maneuverable is your boat and can you stop and turn at a moment’s notice if need be? How’s the wind condition or the current and wave action? Are there shallow areas and sand bars you should look out for?

No Drinking and Boating

Boating operators should be stonecold sober. For one, it’s against the law in all 50 states. If you are caught drinking and driving by the coast guard, you’ll be stopped, arrested, and charged.

For two, intoxication increases the likelihood of boating accidents multiple-fold. Being in the hot sun and water all day long can also exacerbate its effect. Because your motor skills are impaired, you won’t be in any condition to operate a vehicle. Alcohol will cause inattention, misperception, and delayed reflexes, resulting in accidents, vehicle damage, injury, and death. 

Drunken passengers are no better. If guests have to drink, keep it to a minimum. Drunken guests in party-mode are at high risk to injure themselves. Worse, an inebriated person can easily lose their balance (or make a bad decision), fall overboard, and not have the motor capacity to save themselves from drowning. 

Inebriation is the leading contributing factor to boating accidents, more than any other single factor. 

Observe Boating and Navigation Rules and Regulations

Aside from no speeding and drinking, one should learn and always observe boating and navigation rules and regulations. They exist for your own safety and the safety of everyone else in the water.

Pay Attention

Believe it or not, operator inattention is also one of the leading causes of boating accidents. Even more so than ground vehicles, there is a lot of competition in crowded waters that can distract a boat operator. Passengers on board, water skis and wakeboards, swimmers, cellphones, and even water flora and fauna can all be distractions.

As a boat operator, it’s important to avoid these diversions and be vigilant on the task at hand. Focus on your boat, the water, weather, and boating safety procedures.

While having fun while boating is encouraged, a boat operator’s first priority is safety.

Have a Lookout

Well, boat operators are people too. Having a proper lookout will go a long way towards ensuring boating safety. They can help you monitor the weather, watch out for anything that might cause an accident, and just all-around be an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands for you.

Go Easy and Gain More Experience

If you are inexperienced, get properly trained. Did you know that more than 70% of fatalities in boating accidents involved boat operators who did not have proper boating training and safety instructions? On the other hand, operators who have undergone a nationally accredited training account for only 15%.

*(insert link to figures)*

Learn how to operate your boat properly and gain experience to avoid boating accidents. Just like driving a car, start small by getting proper instructions. Your life and the life of your passengers, other boaters, and people in water depend on it.

Make Safety Your Priority

It’s all fun and games until someone gets in an accident. So we’ll leave you with our number one tip for avoiding boating accidents. Make safety your priority. That’s essentially this whole article summed up into one. Happy boating! We’ll hopefully sea you in the waters soon.

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