The heat of summer has arrived! This means that Pennsylvanians will be headed for beach retreats on the weekend! Summer weekend excursions usually involve boating on the water. While boating adventures can be fun, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that in 2013, there were 4,062 recreational boating accidents. Many of these accidents were caused by boaters failing to follow basic safety precautions. Whether you are new or are an “old salt” when it comes to boating on the water, keep these safety tips in mind when you and your family are headed out for a boating adventure.
- Know the Rules of the Waterways! According to DMV.org, Pennsylvania Law requires that anyone born after January 1, 1982, is required to have a license to operate a motorboat over 25 horsepower. For those that are exempt from this rule, it is still important that you know and abide by the rules of the waterways. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends that individuals exempt from the current licensure law enroll in a boat safety course, where students learn everything from the basics of operating a boat, to navigation techniques, to managing boating emergencies. Local chapters of the United States Power Squadron offer basic boat safety courses at least once a year.
- Wear a Lifejacket. It is strongly recommended by the U.S. Coast Guard that all passengers in the boat, even adults, wear life vests. In 2013, 84% of boat related deaths occurred because passengers were not wearing a life vest. Federal law requires that the number of life vests on board be equal to the number of passengers riding in the boat. Even if all passengers can swim, when an accident occurs, you will have very little time to hunt for and put on a life vest. Further, a vest will help save you from drowning if you are unconscious in a boating accident and are unable to swim. While the common complaint among most boaters is that life vests are bulky and uncomfortable, many boating companies have responded by creating life vests that are light, minimally invasive, and easy to use.
- Don’t Drink and Boat. Alcohol and boating do NOT mix. Alcohol impairs judgment and concentration. You need both to safely navigate the waterways.
- Use a Spotter! This is basic boating law, but one that is most often broken. When a boat under power is used for activities like water skiing, tubing, wake boarding, etc., a passenger in the boat must be paying attention to the skier or tuber. A spotter informs the driver of all the activity occurring behind the boat. The spotter is the first line of defense for the skier or tuber in avoiding an accident.
- Have a “Float Plan.” Before heading out on the water, let someone on land know where you are going, and how long you expect to be away. This designated person can be a friend or family member who is not going along for the boat ride, or even a neighbor. Exchange contact numbers with this person. If your plans change at any time, be sure to call your contact. Float Plans make it easier for first responders to find you and render aid.
- Keep an Eye on the Weather. Know the weather before you go. If there is a prediction of rain or thunderstorms during your travels, plan your route accordingly. While out on the water, pay attention to any changes in the weather. Summer storms can roll in with little to no warning. If you notice any abrupt changes in temperature, wind speed, or wind direction, start heading for home, or the shoreline, right away. Be sure you have a plan (and that your passengers are aware of the plan) for what to do in case you are caught in a passing thunderstorm.
Knowledge of basic boating rules and safety procedures will create a pleasurable boating experience, and prevent a day of fun in the sun from ending in tragedy.