Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in boating accidents, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Each could come into play at any time on the water, at any time of the year.
Here are five safety tips:
- Stop the distractions: Being distracted, even for an instant, can make a good day go bad. Before you head out on the water, learn how to use your GPS at the dock, rather than with your head down, trying to figure out how to toggle between screens while underway. Can you move your hand between the throttle and wheel without looking? Do you know the location of the trim switch, running lights and bilge switch by feel? If not, spend some time memorizing the location of your boat controls. When running, try to tune out unnecessary conversations going on around you, with the exception of valuable input from a helpful lookout. And remember, texting while boating is just as dangerous as texting while driving a car.
- Hold off on the alcohol until you are safely ashore or tied up for the night: Added to the effects of sun, wind and waves, alcohol lowers situational awareness. Bring lots of water and other nonalcoholic beverages.
- Wear a life jacket: Spending the extra money on a comfortable life jacket means your chances of wearing it greatly increase. Check out the newer, small lightweight inflatable-type life jackets that are nothing like the uncomfortable life jackets of old. And it's also always wise to have everyone aboard in life jackets. Accidents can happen very quickly.
- Some help just for paddlers: Paddlers should understand the nautical rules of the road, practice defensive paddling, and assume no one can see you. At night, show a bright white light (glow sticks hung around the paddler's neck do not qualify). Avoid crowded anchorages and congested ramp areas.
- About that broken-down boat: To avoid having to get on-water towing, monitor your boat's battery drain during a long day on the water, go slow while hauling your anchor line, watch for wakes, and be super vigilant of other boats and other hazards around you.