While admittedly every week should be a safe boating week, this week’s formal designation as National Safe Boating Week will hopefully call attention to some critical safety measures that people often skip.
A little extra time or inconvenience can make the difference between life and death on the open water. While new boaters often do not understand how to safely operate their equipment or account for tides and currents, many boating accidents involve experienced boaters who think they don’t need to bother with basic safety measures. As attorneys who work with victims of boating accidents, we have seen what happens when people neglect important safety procedures, and the results are often heartbreaking.
Don’t Underestimate the Danger
The U.S. Coast Guard announced that last year, there were well over 4,000 reported boating accidents. Many more accidents go unreported.
From the accidents that were reported to authorities, 636 people were killed and another 2,222 suffered injuries. Often, the cause of death in boating accidents is drowning. In cases where the cause of death was reported, 75% of fatalities were due to drowning, and 85% of the victims who drowned were not wearing a life jacket. A significant percentage of the fatalities involved alcohol consumption, but many deaths occurred in situations where people were sober and thought they could handle the situation.
Follow These Ten Safety Tips
Every situation carries its own unique dangers, but the National Safe Boating Council recommends ten measures to stay safe on the water:
- Wear a life jacket. The strongest swimming skills in the world will not save you if you are knocked unconscious. Life jackets are essential for people of all ages and abilities.
- Follow laws and navigation rules. Boating laws differ from state to state, and navigation rules have even more local variation. Before you set out, make sure you know how to operate legally and safely. Others on the water will be expecting you to act a certain way based on those rules, and at the very least, you may face heavy fines for violations. Speed limits are often set to account for hazards that may not be obvious. Know the rules of the road for boating, and follow them.
- Ensure the Boat is Prepared. You can schedule a free Vessel Safety Check with your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadron. Create your own checklist and recheck items every time before you set out.
- Check the Weather and Water Temperature. You need to know if a storm is expected and whether the water is cold enough to cause someone to go into shock if they fall in. Monitor conditions for changes.
- Don’t Drink Alcohol. Alcohol use poses a danger even for passengers. A sudden shift can send you over the edge if you are not focused on your surroundings and able to react quickly. Alcohol slows reaction time and decreases powers of observation and deduction. A boat operator impaired by alcohol can be charged with boating under the influence (BUI).
- Bring Two Working Communication Devices. The most important piece of emergency equipment on board is often a communication device. You should always have at least two devices that will work while wet, and you should ensure that everyone knows how to use them. This equipment can include emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs), satellite phones, personal locator beacons (PLBs) and VHF radios.
- Be Wary of Carbon Monoxide. Gas-powered boat and engines and generators produce carbon monoxide that can poison someone who breathes in too much. Install a CO detector, avoiding blocking exhaust outlets, and anchor at least 20 feet from other boats that are running an engine or generator.
- Dress Properly. Wear layers if the weather on the water could be cool, and bring extra clothes to change into if you get wet. Hypothermia can send you into a state of shock. Heat stroke can as well, so be aware of the dangers of too much sun.
- Take a Boating Safety Course. Many courses are available online, and completing a course could not only save a life but also save money on your insurance.
- File a Float Plan. Make sure someone knows where you are going, who’s on board, and other details.
Boat Owners Need to Take Responsibility for the Safety of Those on Board
If you own a boat, you have the power to require your passengers to wear life jackets and abide by other safety rules. You owe your passengers a duty to operate the vessel safely and follow the rules.
Anytime someone suffers injuries in a boating accident that could have been prevented if others had only lived up to their obligations and followed the law, the injured person can sue those responsible and recover damages for the injured person’s injuries.
If you would like more information about a potential claim for boating accident injuries, contact Latti & Anderson LLP for a free consultation.