Boating Exposures

Part 1 of 5

Even when a vessel is impeccably maintained and well equipped, the unexpected malfunction, bad weather or human error can wreck your day on the boat.

A small fire or water in the engine room can easily be extinguished or drained. But bigger problems, such as a blazing fire in the engine room, may force boaters to abandon ship. Big or small, scenarios such as these reinforce the need for safety first.

Steps to Take Before You Leave the Dock

Here are some critical items that should top your pre-sail list:

Make sure your boat is equipped with proper safety equipment, know where it is and know how to use it. Familiarize your passengers with the location of the equipment as well as your first-aid kit.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System are the premier systems for “may day” calls, though they are not required by law. Take along flashlights, flares, extra batteries including a special lithium battery designed for your EPIRB. Your boat should also have a radio and a telephone.

Have a life jacket for each passenger. Make certain the jackets fit properly. If too big, it can slip off. Fitting children can be a challenge. Contact the Boat U.S. Foundation about its life jacket loaner program for kids.

Life rafts and diver or Gumby suits are particularly important for emergency survival, especially if your boat sinks or if you are traveling in cold northern waters. Also, in water, you cannot accurately judge your distance to shore. Therefore, a raft will help you avoid the temptation to swim.

Pack plenty of water and extra food.

Bring extra fuel. You may have to slow down if you encounter rough weather, and this could cause you to run out of fuel.

Before leaving, contact several reliable people to let them know your schedule.

Check online weather information for your area. Sometimes, you only have a window of good weather; take it, or be flexible if you need to defer your start if bad weather is predicted.

Make your passengers aware that boat safety is paramount and that careless or reckless behavior will not be tolerated. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that falling overboard was one of the five top causes of accidents in 2008, its current reporting year. Of 431 such accidents, 188 ended in death.

Be clear about limitations concerning areas where passengers can swim, water ski or jet ski when the motor is idling or running. According to Coast Guard reports, 383 accidents occurred from skier mishap, resulting in 10 deaths. Fatalities also can occur when passengers perform these activities near the boat’s exhaust and are overcome by the carbon monoxide fumes.

Next: A Spare Set of Eyes Is Always Good (part 2 of 5)