During the summer months, boat owners across the United States are likely to spend more time out on the water, leading several local officials to remind their communities about safety. A recent situation in Alabama highlights why safety best practices are key, whether that means keeping boat identification up to date or making sure the motor on the boat is in working condition.
In May 2019, a Mobile, Alabama Fire-Rescue crew raced to find and rescue four people from Mobile Bay after their boat capsized. Unfortunately, first responders did not have adequate identifying information about the boat, and witnesses were not able to give much detail as to the boat's location. Local residents were only able to point out where the owner’s truck was parked. Without good data to pinpoint, it took the Fire-Rescue team a significant amount of time to find the sinking boat, even though the owners were well within the fire team's jurisdiction.
Every year, boaters will underestimate the dangers of local waterways. Luckily, many of the emergency situations unprepared boat enthusiasts encounter are easily preventable. By taking simple precautions and investing in practical safety, boat owners can ensure a fun and safe summer at sea.
Boat owners should also be aware of high-risk periods when on the water. The United States Coast Guard found that, while the summer months saw more people on the water, July had the most number of boating accidents. Most of these accidents occurred on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). The Coast Guard reported that the biggest contributing factor of accidents and casualties resulting in accidents was operator inattention. The biggest contributing factor of deaths was alcohol use.
The American Boating Association (ABA) points out that the 4th of July is sometimes the first and only time people venture out on the water after dark. If boaters are planning to take their vessel out at night, preparing ahead can prevent accidents. Be sure to make sure the boat’s navigation lights work and that there are enough life vests for everyone on board, as these small details can make a significant difference. Nearly 84 percent of individuals who drown in boating accidents were not wearing life jackets.
Here are 7 tips to share with your community for safe boating:
- File a float plan with a friend. Similar to a flight plan, map out your expected time out and arrival back along with the route you’ll be following. If you are not back around the time you say, make sure your friend is prepared to call for help.
- Don’t drink and boat. Operating any sort of machinery under the influence can be very dangerous. Alcohol in particular affects judgement, vision, balance, and coordination.
- Be on alert. Accidents often happen with little to no warning. Make sure you and a passenger are on the lookout for potential hazards (changes in weather, lobster traps, other boats, or people swimming).
- Always wear a life jacket. Life jackets, like seat belts, are lifesaving devices. Whenever on a boat, make sure you have a life jacket on. If an accident were to occur you might not have enough time to slip one on.
- Be sure your boat is properly equipped for you journey. If you’re going out on the water at night, make sure that the boat’s navigation lights are working so other boats can see you.
- Don’t speed. No wake zones are there for a reason. Whether the area is highly trafficked by smaller crafts (canoes and kayaks) or swimmers, adhering to water speed limits is essential.
- Sign up for a Smart911 safety profile. The overturned boat in Mobile County, Alabama inspired local officials to call upon residents to create or update a Smart911 profile. In an interview with NBC 15, Charlie McNichol, Mobile County’s 911 Director, stressed how a Smart911 profile with boat information can help first responders during an emergency. “Smart911 increases our chances of locating you. In this case, if a boater calls from the boat, we’re able to get to you quicker.”
With the aide of RapidSOS technology, police and rescue crews can also have a better sense of someone’s location. If you are preparing for your next boating journey, be sure to familiarize yourself with boat safety tips, and sign up for a Smart911 profile. The information provided can be lifesaving during any emergency, giving boat owners peace of mind before they set sail.
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