With the 2017 boating season just round the corner, it could be a good New Year Resolution to refresh our knowledge of how to stay safe in the water. Figures published by the U.S. Coastguard for 2014, show that in that year there were over 4,000 accidents, involving over 600 deaths, over 2,000 injuries and causing $39 million in property damage as a result of recreational boating accidents nationwide. To avoid becoming one of these statistics it might be useful to understand how the majority of these accidents occurred. While some accidents are inevitable, others can be avoided with knowledge, care and careful planning. Surprisingly some of the worst boating accidents actually stem from the most mundane events.
10 of the top causes of boating accidents (in no particular order)
- Operator Inexperience - Operating a boat does not require a driving or operating licence, which leaves itself open to the danger of inexperienced “skippers” taking a boat out without necessarily knowing what they are doing and relying on learning as they go. Would you do that in a car? Operators not only need to understand the basics of boating and rules of navigation, but they also need to be prepared to handle emergency situations. There are a huge range of boating courses where you can not only learn new skills, but also refresh and practice old ones. Remember with boating you never stop learning. Even if you are not a boat owner, but are hiring a boat or joining one as a crew member, it is important that you understand what is going on, so a course on boat safety would not be wasted.
Operator Inattention – It is easy to get distracted while handling a boat. Staying attentive and paying attention to what matters is critical. Remember that boats don’t have brakes and water and tides add an element of unpredictability when you need to react quickly. A boat operator should stay vigilant and constantly monitor their boat, their surroundings and the weather conditions.
- Improper Lookout – A boat operator needs to have unobstructed views around the vessel to ensure a clear, safe path. In areas with busy traffic, divers, swimmers, debris, buoys, or when boating at night, it is as well to have a designated crew member to look out for dangers, or even instruct the whole crew to keep a lookout. “I didn’t see them coming” or “I didn’t know it was there” will not get you out of a collision
- Excessive Speed – Boating at a safe speed ensures the operator and passengers have time to react to dangers. Some waterways have speed limits to avoid collisions with other boats and damage to banks and bridges etc. At other times the operator must use his own careful judgement when deciding on a safe speed. This often depends on conditions such as the type of water, the state of the tide, currents, obstructions and whether it is day or night. Remember that slowing down increases your odds of seeing people and objects in the water, increases your awareness of what is going on around you and gives you time to take avoiding action.
- Equipment Failure – Proper and consistent maintenance of a boat is the responsibility of the owner and checks should be made on a regular basis to ensure that the boat remains in good condition. Avoid taking short cuts with your maintenance programme as this will probably lead to trouble and more expense. If you are hiring a boat, try to give it the “once over” before you take it out. You don’t want to find a fault when you are in the middle of an emergency.
Ignoring the Weather – Keeping an eye on the weather is just as important as maintaining a lookout. Never leave port without checking for news of weather conditions and keep a watch out for tell-tale signs of changes such as poor visibility, cloud patterns, changes of wind direction and force and even ripples on the sea. Don’t assume that clear conditions when you start off will automatically last all day. Never ignore a weather warning – some storms are powerful enough to capsize smaller vessels.
- Force of Waves or Wakes – Weather related waves or artificially caused wakes from other vessels can be hazardous if not navigated properly. They can cause accidents, injuries and even deaths from boats capsizing or causing man-over boards.
- Alcohol & Drug Use – Alcohol and drugs can seriously impair operation of a boat. In most states in the USA the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08%, the same as for automobile drivers. Whilst the “sun’s over the yardarm” syndrome is usually a safe one, you never know if you are going to have to change moorings after docking for the night. So one capable member on board should be sober enough to move the boat if necessary.
Violation of Navigation Rules – This is one of the top causes of accidents. While many boaters know how to operate their boats, they may not be so certain of the rules of the waterways. Even the open seas have their own procedures. Familiarising yourself with the appropriate actions will help to avoid collisions or running aground. Be especially aware of the times when you should “stand on” or “give way” but be prepared to alter course at any time if it is safer to do so. Don’t be the one with the epitaph “he died defending his right of way”.
- Hazardous Waters – Some hazardous waters are predictable and can be avoided or prepared for. But conditions in the water can change within a matter of minutes. Rapid tidal flows or sudden changes in the current often make it difficult to operate boats safely and skippers should be equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with such scenarios. Sometimes the hazard can be simply the number of boats in a particular area, especially at holiday time when there may be many inexperienced crews around.
So take the next couple of months to refresh your safety skills and knowledge and hopefully we can all look forward to a good year’s boating in 2017.