Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top 10 Safety Tips for Boaters

Introduction by William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill
Sometimes we take boating for granted, especially on a clear day when the sea, wind and sky seem to be cooperating.  Weather can change very quickly and passengers should be the number one concern.  Being prepared by taking heed of some safety concerns is the first priority after seeing to it that the boat floats and has propulsion. Here are 10 safety tips from Mario Vittone my favorite expert author in all things relating to personal safety on the water.  I hope you find these constructive reminders as informative as I do.

Article by Mario VITTONE
As a veteran helicopter rescue swimmer and now a marine safety specialist for the United States Coast Guard, I’ve seen a lot of boating trips gone wrong.  Accidents are accidents, but after twelve years on the job, I’ve noticed that most of the emergencies we respond to are easy to avoid.  With a little additional planning and preparation, you can dramatically decrease your chances of ever having to call for help.  Consider the following before your next trip and we’ll probably never meet.
Remember where you’re going: Remember that “offshore” means “isolated in a hostile environment.”  Keeping that in mind changes the way you think about everything else.

Your passengers: Do they have any medical conditions? Are they adequate swimmers?  What is their boating experience?   The answers make a big difference, but you have to ask the questions first. Life-saving drugs like asthma, heart, allergy meds, and insulin come along for the ride, or those who need them don’t.  Period.

Dockside training: Ever run a man overboard drill with you as the MOB?  Did you teach your 10 year-old how to make a distress call?  You should. The Coast Guard often responds to emergencies where the captain is the emergency.  Discuss safety procedures and equipment witheveryone on board.

Float plan: Someone on shore needs to know where you’re going (think lat/long), who’s going with you, and when you’ll be back.  We’re good, but we wont find you if we look in the wrong place.

The weather: If you’re in an open hulled boat, it doesn’t matter how warm it is, it only matters how cold it might get. If you’re caught out overnight, warm clothes and rain gear can make the difference between uncomfortable …… and unconscious.

Bail-out: If the weather does turn unexpectedly, any land may be good enough.  Study the charts and pre-identify possible bail-out points.

Communications: Talk to us before the water is at your ankles.  At the first sign of serious trouble, injury, or illness, contact the Coast Guard.    Remember, urgency calls (Pan-Pan) exist for a reason. To determine if a problem is serious, refer to tip #1.

Your EPIRB: A 406 EPIRB or PLB is your life.  Save money on something else.  Update the registration often ( When going on extended voyages, use the “Additional Data Field” to provide valuable information like the number of passengers, special considerations i.e. “diabetic aboard”, and expected return time.

Flash lights: Finding you out there is about seeing you out there.  Nothing says “come check me out” like a frantically waving flashlight. Flares are great and you should have them, but they don’t last very long. Tying the small, waterproof versions in the pockets of your lifejackets is smart move as well.

Water temps: 
The risk of a boating accident being fatal is three times higher in the winter than in the summer.  In extremely cold water, you can be incapacitated in minutes (or less).  Immersion suits are expensive, but trust me; they somehow seem cheaper when your boat is taking on water.

Remember, don’t just be safe out there; be safe, then go out.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.

Mario Vittone is one of the services leading experts on immersion hypothermia, drowning, sea survival, and safety at sea. His writing has appeared in Yachting Magazine, SaltWater Sportsman, MotorBoating Magazine, Lifelines, On-Scene, and Reader’s Digest. He has lectured extensively to business leaders, educators, and the military on team motivation, performance, innovation, mission focus, and generational diversity. In 2007, he was named as the Coast Guard Active Duty Enlisted Person of the Year and was named as the 2009 recipient of the Alex Haley Award for Journalism.

William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill is the author of the book, Lubber's Log published by Llumina Press; a boating primer and adventure story about a couples experiences in moving up to a bigger boat.  

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