On behalf of Bobby Warner
As summer begins, so too, does boating season. While this means fun and relaxation for many, there are things that boaters need to be aware of before taking a trip on the nearest body of water. In 2015, the Coast Guard counted 4,158 accidents that involved 626 deaths, 2,613 injuries and approximately $42 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
The fatality rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 1.9 percent increase from last year’s fatality rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
Boater inexperience and lack of instruction plays a heavy role in boating fatalities. In fact, only 15 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction. Furthermore, the size of the boat was a factor in the reported deaths. Eight out of every ten boaters who drown were using a vessel that was less than twenty one feet in length.
Unfortunately, boating accidents are very similar to car accidents due to the fact that operator carelessness or recklessness is usually the cause of most accidents and fatalities. The top five contributing factors to boating accidents include operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol. Of all boating-related injuries and fatalities, alcohol use was determined to be the number one contributing factor.
Similar to the way that a drunk driver can get a DUI on the open roads, a boat operator can be guilty of drinking and driving a boat while under the influence. Unfortunately drinking is a significant problem in the boating community. Many people think it’s acceptable to drink alcohol while operating a large vessel-and when this happens a simple mistake can lead to serious injuries or death for anyone who gets in the way. It is not uncommon for passengers to fall off their own boats because the operator is speeding or driving in a reckless manner. Not to mention the occupants of other boats, paddle boats, jet skis and canoes.
Warner Law Offices handled two boating accident cases recently where one man fell over board and drowned and the other was a teenage boy who was ran over by a larger boat while he and his friend were riding their jet ski. Both cases could have been avoided had the defendants obeyed maritime laws.
No matter how much experience you have, it’s always a good idea for everyone to review boating safety rules before departures. Below you will find 10 basic boating safety tips to help you stay safe:
• Be weather-wise – always check local weather conditions before departure. TV and radio forecasts can be a good source of information. If you notice darkening clouds, volatile and rough changing winds or sudden drops in temperature, play it safe by getting off the water.
• Follow a pre-departure checklist – proper boating safety includes being prepared for any possibility on the water. Following a pre-departure checklist is the best way to make sure no boating safety rules or precautions have been overlooked or forgotten.
• Use common sense – one of the most important parts of boating safety is to use your common sense. This means operating at a safe speed at all times (especially in crowded areas), staying alert at all times and steering clear of large vessels and watercraft that can be restricted in their ability to stop or turn. Also, be respectful of buoys and other navigational aids, all of which have been placed there to ensure your own safety.
• Designate an assistant skipper – make sure more than one person on board is familiar with all aspects of your boat’s handling, operations, and general boating safety. If the primary navigator is injured or incapacitated in any way, it’s important to make sure someone else can follow the proper boating safety rules to get everyone else back to shore.
• Develop a float plan – whether you choose to inform a family member or staff at your local marina, always be sure to let someone else know your float plan. This should include where you’re going and how long you’re going to be gone.
• Make proper use of lifejackets – assign and fit each member of your onboard team with a life jacket prior to departure.
• Avoid alcohol – practice boating safety at all times by saving the alcohol for later. The probability of being involved in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved and studies have shown that the effects of alcohol are exacerbated by sun and wind.
• Learn to swim – if you’re going to be in and around the water, proper boating safety includes knowing how to swim. Check to see what classes are offered in your area.
• Take a boating course – beginning boaters and experienced experts alike need to be familiar with the boating safety rules of operation. Boater education requirements vary by state; however, some require validated completion of at least one boating safety course. Regardless of your individual state’s requirements, it’s always important to be educated and prepared for every circumstance that might arise. You can learn boating safety rules by taking a local community course or online course to help educate yourself.
• Consider a free vessel safety check – take advantage of a free vessel safety check from the US Coast Guard. They offer complimentary boat examinations to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations. Free of charge, they’ll provide a specialist to check out your boat and make helpful boating safety tips and recommendations. They also offer virtual online safety checks as well.