Stay safe while recreational boating on a lake or offshore, on a motorboat, sail boat or even on a kayak. On average, according to the US Coast Guard, an estimated 600 to 700 persons die and over 3000 are injured each year in boating accidents.
Life jackets are to boating what the seat belts are to driving; indeed approximately 80% of deaths in boating are due to drowning and 85% of those victims were not using life jackets. So, even if you consider yourself as a good swimmer, you do need to wear your life jacket, simply because it will keep your head above water and permit your body to keep breathing even if you are unconscious. So, develop the habit of wearing a life jacket and if you are the captain ask all your passengers to wear their life jackets, just as the driver of a car and passengers would wear their seatbelts. Also, be sure you understand how your life jacket operates; many of the new light-weight jackets cannot be inflated by mouth, they require a small gas canister to inflate – be sure yours has one!
You can minimize the overboard risk by using the three points of contact rule. This means that a passenger should always have both his feet on the boat and holding on at least with one hand; and if the person is moving he should hold on with both hands on something solid on the boat and take one step at a time. The three points of contact rule applies also while the person is seated, in that case the person should have his both feet firmly touching the floor or holding on with both hands. Indeed with three points of contact the majority of the body is in balance with the engine and the risk of over-boarding is reduced.
Avoid alcohol while boating. According to the US Coast Guards website: “ It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. The Coast Guard also enforces a federal law that prohibits BUI. This law pertains to ALL boats (from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships) and includes foreign vessels that operate in U.S. waters, as well as U.S. vessels on the high seas.” The effect of alcohol is stronger on water, due to the marine environment and also because boat operators are often less experienced or confident. Almost half of boating accidents involve alcohol.
Be aware of the danger of propeller strikes and never allow passengers to board or exit your boat from the water when engines are on.
If you are a new boater, it is strongly recommended that you take a boating safety course in person or online, and no matter how experienced boater you are you should always inform someone (a family member, friend, neighbor or a worker at the marina) about your trip and when you are planning to come back. It is also better if you have a float plan developed, including your coordinates, your itinerary, boat type, etc. Here is a boating form proposed by the US Coast Guard.
Check your boat and the weather conditions before you go, use common sense and enjoy your nautical experience! Taking these sensible precautions will prevent you from having to call homicide cleanup specialists like us. Happy boating!
-by Aline Martin O’Brien