Analyze any boating accident and you are apt to find its pivotal point — that moment when the captain and crew headed down the sea lane to disaster‐‐ could have been a fairly innocuous situation. It is often such a small thing that it is easy to ignore.
Here’s how to keep a weather eye out for trouble and stay safe.
Keep a Proper Lookout
Sounds like a no‐brainer, right? Yet failure to maintain a proper lookout is in the top five primary contributing factors of boating accidents. Even at idle speeds fatal incidents can take shape in just a few seconds. Ever seen a guy check his text messages while idling out of port? Boats have a direction they default to when not under control. At idle speed, head down, you won’t know if you’re idling into a swimming zone or clipping somebody swimming for a hat that blew off a boat.
Get a long‐range forecast before you depart, and keep a VHF radio on board to get an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather stations. In coastal areas, thunderstorms crop up in the afternoon as air currents change. Don’t race through a storm to get to port. Find a safe haven nearby and wait it out.
If you boat on a tiny lake, gauging your fuel needs is fairly simple — and if you miscalculate, it’s not hard to get a tow to your dock. But, if you boat offshore, in busy ports, the Great Lakes or high‐current rivers like the Mississippi, running out of fuel can be dangerous. If you fish offshore, make sure you have 25 percent more fuel than you think you need. Same for river boating. You don’t want to be adrift in the path of a river barge raft coming upstream while you are floating down.
Horn Works, Try the Lights
OK, I’ve done it: gone out, knowing my navigation lights don’t work. Why? I knew I’d be back to port before dark. And...I wasn’t. Horns are notoriously fickle instruments too. So throw a whistle on the helm station. As long as you blow, it works.
Newfangled Life Jackets
You like those new inflatable life jackets? So do I...until it comes time to rearm them. Most of them have a two‐year time limit before you need to buy a new cartridge and trigger device to rearm them — whether you’ve inflated them or not.
And read the fine print. They recommend inflating them using lung power every so often to check for leaks. Do it, or buy inherently buoyant varieties that need little or no maintenance.
Rules of the Road
If you aren't going to study the U.S. Coast Guard Rules of the Road, at least learn these two rules.
1. When crossing paths with another vessel, the vessel to starboard is the guy who gets to go first. The guy to port goes last.
2. Regardless of what the rules say, if you collide with somebody in a boat, it’s officially partly your fault. So exercise the Golden Rule at all times.
Best Fishing Advice
I visited with fishing pro Kevin VanDam and asked him for his top fishing tips. Know what his top tip was? Get a free Vessel Safety Check (VSC)from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, or U.S. Power Squadrons®. Members will give you a complete list of needs and a free decal showing you passed when you do. This could potentially save time on the water because most law enforcement agencies recognize the VSC sticker, and it could lessen the possibility that you will receive a visit from a marine patrol officer.
To find a convenient location for a Vessel Safety Check, click the link: http://safetyseal.net/GetVSC/
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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.