On Wednesday, July 3, at 2:30 a.m., two jet-skiiers were killed after their jetski hit a buoy in the middle of the South River in Maryland. Police noted that the two individuals were intoxicated and were not wearing life jackets. These two deaths raise the death toll for boat related accidents to six for the July 4th 2019 holiday week. As there is an uptick in boating related deaths, this blog reviews some safety tips for boating excursions. The information provided is, hopefully, nothing new. But, as the boating season is steadily underway, it’s helpful to have a refresher of safety precautions and procedures that are essential for fun on the water.
1. Don’t Boat Under the Influence
Just don’t. Alcohol impairs decision making, mobility, and adaptability. To safely drive, you must concentrate, and be alert to your surroundings. Alcohol does not help you to do either of these things effectively. On the water, you may only have a few seconds to make adjustments to prevent an accident. Leave the alcohol ashore and have the party after you safely return from an adventure on the water.
If you, as a passenger, sense that the potential driver is intoxicated before leaving shore, do not allow the intoxicated person to drive. If you can, keep the intoxicated person on land.
2. Wear a Life Jacket
We sound like a broken record with this tip, but it is one that is so often ignored, even by experienced boaters. You should not rely on your skills as a swimmer in the event of an accident. A boating accident could leave you unconscious, with no way to stay afloat. Life jackets are a security device; they are your best defense against serious injury or death in a boating accident.
The common misconception is that life jackets are bulky and annoying. There is a wide range of jackets available on the market that are affordable, comfortable, and stylish. For an in-depth discussion about the importance of PFDs, check out our blog here.
3. Avoid Boating at Night
While sunset and/or moonlight cruises seem appealing, they can pose many dangers that don’t exist in the daytime. Dusk/darkness (and the tide!) can obscure the shoreline, as well as hidden dangers, like rocks or crab/fish traps. If your boat is not equipped with a depth finder, be aware that topography can change abruptly in the water. If you think it’s hard to discern depth in the daytime, it will be next to impossible to make an accurate determination at night. Without a depth finder, you will be more likely to run aground.
Also, before you leave, be aware of the weather. Late afternoons and evenings are prime time for thunderstorms in the summer. Make sure you have a plan for what to do if you end up stranded in a summer storm.
Be comfortable with the water and the route you take. Nighttime is not the moment to try out new shortcuts or to travel down inlets you have never visited before. If you do travel at night, stick to routes you know well. Make sure that all your running lights are working properly, and are turned on. Further, if your running lights are on, you should not be towing a person behind the boat (i.e. no tubing, no water skiing, wake boarding, etc). This last piece of information is not just sage advice, it’s the law.
4. Make a Boating Plan
Plan your route in advance, especially if you are taking a long trip. Before you leave, designate a contact on shore. This could be a family member, who has chosen to stay behind, or a neighbor that you know well. Inform this designated contact of your route and how long you expect to be gone. Exchange contact information with your contact; that way, both parties have a way of keeping in touch if there is a problem.
This safety list is not exhaustive. But, these are critical tips that will help you avoid making common (and often) fatal mistakes when behind the wheel. Boating, like driving, is about common sense. Using sound judgment and outfitting you boat (and family!) with the proper safety tools will make for a pleasant and manageable experience on the water. Happy boating!