Boating Safety

According to the Boating Accident Report
Database (BARD), there was a record high 819 recreational boating fatalities in 1997, compared to 716 fatalities in 1996. In addition, personal watercraft deaths were down from 79 in 1995 to 54 in 1996, but rose to an all time high of 84 in 1997. Safe boating starts before your first trip out on the water. Do not wait until an accident happens to educate yourself as well as your family on the rules of safe boating. The following safety and survival tips will help you chart a safe course towards the fun and excitement of recreational boating:

Learn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any boating activity. According to the American Red Cross, this is the best way to stay safe in and around the water.
Alcohol and boating don't mix. Alcohol impairs your judgment, balance, and coordination --- over 50 percent of drownings result from boating incidents involving alcohol. For the same reasons it's dangerous to drive a car while under the influence of alcohol, people should not operate a boat while drinking alcohol. Balance is one of the first things you lose when you consume alcohol, and when you combine this with the rocking of the boat, the chance of falling overboard increases.
Wear a life jacket. United States Coast Guard (USCG) statistics indicate that on an average, over six hundred people drown annually in boating accidents. About 88 per cent could have survived if they had worn a life jacket. According to the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC), wearing a life jacket should be as second nature as putting on your seat belt when riding a car. Be sure your life jacket is USCG approved and of the correct size for the wearer. Check the label for approval and size information. To ensure the best performance, the jacket should fit snuggly and buckles, zippers and snaps should be fastened.
Develop a float plan. Give a responsible person details about where you will be and how long you will be gone. This is important in case your boat is delayed because of an emergency, becomes lost, or encounters other problems. Make sure they have a complete description of the vessel and other information that will make identification easier.
Take a boating course. The Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, and most states offer courses for all types of recreational boaters. These courses teach about navigational rules, emergency procedures and the effects of wind, water conditions and weather.
Watch the weather. Check weather warnings and forecasts before leaving shore and while at sea. Remain watchful for signs of bad weather and listen to weather radio broadcasts on your VHF radio. According to the NSBC, usually when you see dark, fast moving clouds headed your way, it's too late to head for a safe location if you are out in the open water. Having knowledge of the larger weather picture and knowing exactly what to do when these sudden storms appear could help you have a safer journey.
Prepare for a boat fire. Most boat fires can be put out rapidly if you act immediately. Having a fully charged fire extinguisher on hand is vital. Take the time to make sure that you and those who boat with you regularly know and understand exactly how to use the fire extinguisher. To prevent boat fires take the following precautions: clean bilges often and maintain proper gear stowage; make sure short-tie cables are properly connected; place oily rags in covered trash cans or dispose of them on shore; and store propane fuel for stoves in a secure area. Contact your local fire department for further fire prevention measures.