by Ken Sylvester, Flotilla Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary 053-17-02 Warminster
With more than 11 million recreational vessels registered in the U.S., millions of Americans are enjoying time on and in the water.
In 2020, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 4,168 boating incidents that resulted in 767 deaths, 2,559 injuries and about $55 million in property damage. The death figure is a rise of 25% over 2019. Stay safe by being prepared and using the appropriate equipment, whether enjoying a ride on a motorized boat, paddling a kayak or wakeboarding.
The types of vessels involved in the most fatalities were open motorboats, kayaks, and pontoons. Alcohol was revealed to have been the leading known contributing factor of fatal accidents in 2020, resulting in over 100 deaths, or 18% of total fatalities. Other factors included operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure.
With a disturbing uptick in on-water mishaps pre- and post-pandemic, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary are focused on continuing boating safety efforts through outreach programs in and out of the boating season.
“So many people have discovered watersports on the Delaware to be a perfect activity during the pandemic,” noted Ken Sylvester, who leads Auxiliary Flotilla 053-17-02. “We want to ensure they stay smart, have fun and be safe since river conditions can change quickly, sometimes in unexpected and potentially dangerous ways,” he added.
Life Jackets Are Essential: Life jackets are at the core of safe boating, whether using a motorized or non-motorized vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard reports 76% of boating deaths in 2020 were due to drowning, 84% of the victims were not wearing a life jacket while two-thirds of drowning victims claimed they were good swimmers. While regulations on life jacket use vary from state to state, the Wear It program of the National Safe Boating Council promotes boating safety by encouraging boaters to wear life jackets any time they are on a boat, motorized or non-motorized. Good swimmers still need life jackets. When people fall off a boat, they may become disoriented, injured or unconscious. Life jackets can keep victims’ heads above water so they can breathe and be rescued more easily. Every child should wear a life jacket at all times when boating
Choose the right life jacket for the activities you will be doing. Double check to make sure the life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard approved and fit correctly:
- Make sure the jacket is a proper fit for your size and weight;
- Make sure the jacket is properly fastened;
- Hold your arms straight up over your head, ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up; make sure there is no excess room above the openings and that the jacket does not ride up over your chin or face.
Get Educated, Reduce Risks: The National Safe Boating Council encourages following these boating safety tips to help minimize risks:
- Take a National Association of Boating Law Administrators safety course;
- Be familiar with the boating state laws;
- Know the “Rules of the Road”;
- When operating a motorized boat, know about carbon monoxide; this odorless, colorless poisonous gas is emitted by all combustion engines and onboard motor generators.
- Exercise Good Judgment
- *Check that your equipment is in good working order; get a free vessel safety check with your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadron;
- Review a pre-departure checklist to ensure you have everything you need in your boat, including a tool kit and first-aid kit;
- Before you leave, always file a float plan with someone you trust;
- Dress properly and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet;
- Don’t forget the sunscreen and know the signs of heat illnesses;
- Respect your limits and keep within your limits to avoid injury;
- Don’t drink and drive a boat; alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination;
- Once on the water, use common sense; in a split second, a situation can arise or the weather can turn;
- If you notice storm clouds, a sudden temperature drop or wind speed increasing, play it safe and get off the water.
- Safety Tips for Water Skiers, Tubers and Wakeboarders: Skiing, tubing and wakeboarding are popular water sports, but they also can be dangerous with participants traveling at high speeds. Remember to take the following steps to minimize the risks:
- Learn how to get up out of the water and how to safely use the tow rope;
- Always have a spotter in the boat, and go over basic hand signals;
- Make certain the towline is not caught in the propeller or wrapped around you prior to beginning;
- Wait for the propeller to stop before getting back on the boat;
- Enjoy these activities during daylight hours only.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 053-17-02 Warminster will be conducting recreational boat vessel safety checks which will help ensure your vessel and its equipment comply with federal, state, and local safety requirements. During the Vessel Safety Check, the vessel examiner also reviews local boating conditions, answers any boating related safety questions, and encourages additional boater education. The purpose of the Vessel Safety Check program is two-fold to ensure your craft is safe from bow to stern, and to add your enjoyment of boating. There is no cost to the public for this Vessel Safety Check and is a free service provided by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
It is easy to schedule a Vessel Safety in Bucks and Montgomery counties by calling 215-605-3467 or e-mailing email@example.com or on the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel safety check website http://cgaux.org/vsc/ . All boats should have a safety examination including power boats, sailboats, personal watercraft (wave runners), canoes, rowboats, kayaks and paddle boards. In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary presents Safe Boating Class schedules-locations through the following website: http://www.cgaux.org/boatinged/classes/2011/ba.php.