Water and Boating Safety Tips to keep your family safe!
Summer is just around the corner. So for millions of Americans that means the beginning of “Beach” season. Whether they are headed to a lake, the ocean, or even a river, people love the water. It is a great vacation destination.
Though you might be on vacation, your preparedness should not be. The CDC reports over 3400 people a year drown in the US. Nine out of ten of those victims drown in inland waters, and had access to a flotation device but did not wear it. Why? A lack or preparedness and a lack of the use of safety equipment…..ie a life jacket.
Water Safety Equipment
There are 5 different types of flotation devices, with Type III life jacket being the most commonly worn. For simple outings on the water, where it is calm, these jackets do the trick. One thing to keep in mind is that they lack the ability to turn an unconscious person face up.
For longer outings in deeper waters, a Type I jacket is what I recommend. It can maintain buoyancy for much longer periods of time, and it will keep an unconscious person face up, preventing them from drowning.
Another device I would recommend for those on large bodies of water, (like an ocean), for long periods of time is an Aqualink Firefly. A waterproof strobe light that could help rescuers find you, especially at night. They also make one that sends out a radio distress beacon that can help rescuers pinpoint your location within a couple hundred meters.
Water Safety Skills and Knowledge
Your ability as a swimmer is one skill that many people either never consider, or vastly overestimate. Swimming in your backyard pool is not the same as emergency swimming at a lake or in the ocean. Your body will tire and fatigue much sooner than you think. So developing your swimming skill can be vitally important.
In 2011, Charles Gibson’s boat capsized and he swam 16 miles before washing up on shore exhausted. He had some swimming skills, and it helped save his life.
Now if you are like me, and have the buoyancy of a rock, then at least know what your swim ability and limitations are. In the summer time, I am one of the officers assigned to our city’s lakes. The vest pictured above stays in my vehicle at all times, unless it is on me when I’m in the water.
Having lifesaving skills such as CPR could help a loved one in an emergency. Drowning is the second leading cause of injury related death for children under the age of 14. And a majority of those are in swimming pools.
Places such as the American Red Cross offer CPR and first aid classes for less than $100. Four hours of your time could be the difference between life and death for a family member or friend. (They also offer swimming courses as well.)
There are numerous websites that offer online classes. But I would encourage you to take a class room led course instead. Nothing beats hands on training.
The article on Charles Gibson I posted above, did you notice a problem happening before the boat sank? The captain ignored the weather forecast. The port was closed and all the other boats stayed put. But they went out. You read the end result.
Skipping a day on the water due to weather might seem like a downer. But drowning is worse. Being safe doesn’t make you a wuss. It means you are smart!
A day on the beach or in your boat typically involves drinking some adult beverages. I’m a big fan of Mexican beer in a frosted mug….a little lime and salt. But while in/on the water, you should drink in moderation if at all. Alcohol can dehydrate you quickly in the hot sun. And intoxication is a MAJOR cause of accidental drowning and boating accidents.
Last year, we had a man drown in one of our city lakes. We have designated swim areas that are marked with buoys. For whatever reason, he swam beyond those. About 20 yards past the buoys, he went down and drown. He overestimated his ability as a swimmer, did not have ona life jacket, and intoxication also played a role. All of this led to his death. So follow the safety rules and guidelines.
In the US, there is no licensing or certification required to operate a recreational boat up to a certain length. (Though some states may require a boating safety course.) It may vary from state to state, so please be sure to check your local and state laws before operating. For ocean going vessels, you should also check Federal laws and regulations.
Even if your state does not require a boating safety course, I would encourage you to take one. Use this link to find a course in your area.
· Check the weather reports ahead of time. Even for a day excursion, I’d check at least 48 hours out in case you get stuck. The link above on Charles Gibson shows the dangers of NOT doing that.
· Designate an assistant captain. This should be someone mature and reasonable, but also someone who knows your boat and boating safety guidelines.
· Have a float plan, and let others know your plans: when you are leaving, when you are returning, and the route you intend to take, the people in your party, and the information of the boat you are on
· Make and follow a pre-departure check list with the subsequent items BEFORE entering the water:
- Ensure there are enough Coast Guard approved life jackets for every person on board. Make sure they fit the person wearing them. I would also keep some spares. If your boat is longer than 16 feet, I would also have a flotation device attached to rope that I could throw.
- Make sure you have an audible device able to be heard for at least a half mile away, such as an air horn. Attaching a whistle to each life jacket is a great back up plan.
- Make sure the boat’s lights and instruments are all working. Spare flashlights with charged batteries are a must. Bonus points if the flashlights are waterproof!
- Make sure your boat’s fuel is topped off. Check the oil and coolant levels as well. I’d also check your battery system and make sure the entire boat as power.
- Have a tool box with tools specific to your boat. Spare parts, such as belts, hoses, bulbs, head parts etc would also be wise
- Have the required number of fire extinguishers on board. Make sure they are up to date, mounted securely, and that your passengers know where they are
- Make sure you have proper ventilation on an enclosed or semi enclosed vessel. Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are a must!
- Check your bilges to make sure they are reasonable dry. Clean up any spills that could contaminate if they went overboard
- Check your anchor and make sure it is set securely on your anchor line. I would carry a few extra dock lines as well. Check and make sure the lines are in good condition. I’d have at least three or four fenders for docking, towing, etc
- Check the boat’s radio system to make sure it works properly
- Carry all needed documentation in a waterproof container. Things such as the boat’s papers, radio license, fishing permits, charts and maps of the area, etc should be included
Once in the water, there are some other guidelines I would follow:
· Use common sense. Avoid dangerous areas or excessive and unsafe speeds. Follow the buoys and markers. They are there for your safety and the safety of others.
· Moderate your alcohol consumption. I’m saying this again because IT IS that important! If it is your boat, you could be held responsible for the safety of those in your boat in the event of an emergency
· Wear your lifejacket, and ensure that others on your boat do as well. Drowning is a bigger hassle than wearing it!
· For larger ships, memorize a route to get from your cabin to the deck in an emergency. Study “landmarks” near entrances. If the ship capsizes and loses power, you are now trying to find your way out in the dark and sideways. ALWAYS have a good pocket flash light. ALWAYS!!
Not Going Down with the Ship
If the unthinkable happens, and for whatever reason your boat capsizes, sinks, or you need to abandon ship, there are some things you need to do to ensure your safety.
First, if you don’t have on a flotation device on, get it on! If you do not know where your flotation device is, punch yourself in the face for being an idiot!
Even with a life jacket on, I would look for other things to use as flotation as well. Things like ice chests, cushions, or even empty water bottles you can stuff in your clothing will help. No life jacket is 100% fool proof, so having other items to help keep you afloat is a great backup plan.
Next, try to keep clear of anything on the boat/ship that could entangle you. Sailboats have all kinds of lines and rigging. Even speed boats have tether lines and awnings that could become attached to you or your clothing. This is no bueno!
If you find yourself entangled, remain calm. Thrashing or spinning will make the situation worse. You might be tempted to cut yourself free. But be careful. Sometimes cutting those lines could create more free lines. So don’t cut unnecessarily.
On larger ships, if they are sinking or have capsized, be aware that the pressure of the water on the boat could cause structural problems. Bulkheads could collapse. So try to get out of the ship as quickly and safely as possible. When entering the water, try to get away from the ship as quickly as possible as to avoid other survivors entering the water and to avoid being snagged by parts of the ship. As for the sinking ship sucking you under, please click the link here to watch a video on that.
If you have to jump from the boat to the water, there are some things you should do. In the US Navy, sailors are taught to keep their shoes/boots on. They look down to see what is below them. Jumping into debris or another survivor…ouch!
Place an arm over your stomach, and grab your other elbow. Use that hand to pinch your nose closed to avoid water being forced in. Jump out as far away from the ship as you can, but maintain control of your descent. Cross your legs to protect your “family jewels” or other sensitive areas, and enter the water feet first. Swim away as quickly as possible in case it is “raining passengers”. Someone falling on you is even worse than you falling on them!
Dangers in the Water
On a lake or close to shore, rescue should come fairly quickly. But if you are further out, or in a huge disaster scenario, rescue could be slow in coming. So once in the water, there are some things you should keep in mind.
The body loses heat up to 20 times faster in water than in air. So while a cool 60 degree breeze might not be bad on a nature hike, in 60 degree water, the clock will begin ticking. Within hours, at that temperature, you could perish.
If you can, draw your knees up to your chest and hug them to try and retain some body heat. If there are other survivors in the water, huddle with them to share body heat. And keep your clothing on if they aren’t getting too heavy and causing you to sink.
Also, finding something to float on that keeps your body out of the water would help too. Think “Rose” versus “Jack” from the movie Titanic.
Fish are naturally attracted to anything floating on the surface of the ocean. The bigger the objects, the more fish it attracts. And you know what is attracted to fish? Yep…bigger, hungry fish.
Very few shark species actually kill people. And even then, it is because the shark mistook the human for some other prey. Sharks like fatty food sources, such as seals. We humans and all our damn bones are just not as appealing. But that doesn’t mean sharks might not be attracted to and curious of all the commotion “upstairs.” So be cautious with sharks, but do not panic.
In addition to sharks, there are also jelly fish and other threats. So be mindful of what is around you. Again, keeping your clothing on could help protect you some from things like jelly fish.
A large number of accidents in the water today could have been prevented had proper safety guidelines been followed. Make your vacation or water trip a great one! Keep you and your family safe by following these tips.
Stay safe out there!
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