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Dos And Don’ts For Safe Summer Boating

Boating safety tips from the U.S. Coast Guard

Those who boat year ’round know to take those extra precautions that come with boating during the off season. But summer adds some unique challenges: an increased number of boats, people in the water, music and activities onshore and off.

Stressors like heat, sun glare, noise, engine vibration, and the motion of the boat can produce signs and symptoms similar to those caused by ingesting alcoholic beverages.  That’s because the impacts are synergistic; taken as a whole the effect is greater than the sum of each individual stressor.  

Hot weather also makes it tempting to remove your lifejacket. Don’t. If you are still carrying the old “horse collar” type, consider summer the perfect excuse to move up to an inflatable lifejacket for everyone on board. Inflatables come in many shapes and styles that are comfortable, cool, and tan-friendly.  

Here are a few suggestions for keeping your summer boating safe, carefree, and fun.

Do mind the traffic. The number of recreational boats on the water peaks in midsummer and so do boating accidents, rising more than fourfold from April to July, according to the most recent Coast Guard data.  Maintain a safe speed and stay alert to other boaters, swimmers, skiers, and other towed water sport participants, especially during holiday weekends when fireworks and festivities add to the distraction.

Don’t forget about the hazards of carbon monoxide. Avoid high-risk behaviors, like hanging off the swim platform of a boat moving forward (known as “teak surfing”).  Don’t linger near powerboats that are idling in close proximity.  Once you launch, move off to a clear area.

Do take along insect repellent. Nothing ruins enjoyment of the outdoors like a swarm of biting flies or mosquitoes, plus they could provide that momentary distraction that leads to a collision. 

Don’t forget your sunglasses. Not only do they provide UV protection for your eyes but by reducing glare they also give you a clearer view of other boats and any hazards in the water.

Do stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to headaches and fatigue. In hot weather the drink of choice should be water or other non-alcoholic liquids, such as lemonade, fruit juice, or soft drinks.

Don’t drink alcohol and boat. Alcohol impairs judgment, accelerates dehydration, and intensifies the effects of other on-the-water stressors, such as heat, glare, and engine vibration.  Early in the season, when air and water temperatures are still chilly, alcohol can accelerate hypothermia.  Alcohol use also increases the risk of someone falling overboard accidentally.  Be aware that operating a boat under the influence of alcohol (BUI) is illegal and in some states mirror those penalties associated with driving under the influence.

Do update your marine first-aid kit. Make sure it is fully stocked for emergencies and appropriate for the distance you’ll be boating from shore.  The farther you are from medical assistance the more first aid you’ll need to render until help arrives. 

Don’t forget the sunscreen. Be sure it combats both UVA and UVB rays and has a minimum SPF of 30.  Summer sun and heat can lead to headaches, sunstroke, and sunburn.  Apply sunscreen every 2-3 hours, and more often if you are swimming.

Do keep a weather eye. Summer squalls can build quickly, depending on the local climate.  Know the signs of a threatening storm and monitor the forecast for your area on a marine VHF-FM radio.  If a storm threatens, head in.  If caught in a storm, seek a sheltered spot and keep everyone low in the center of the boat until the storm passes.

Do wear your Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Set an example and insist that everyone on board do the same, even those who know how to swim. Remember that accidents can happen quickly, resulting in people injured or unconscious and unable to save themselves from drowning. Wearing a lifejacket also dramatically improves the chances of surviving an inadvertent fall overboard into cold water and provides some protection against hypothermia until assistance arrives. No matter how skilled a mariner, a lifejacket is your backup plan.  Wear it.

The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit www.usc gboating.org.