National Safe Boating Week is May 22-28, 2010, followed on May 29-31 by Memorial Day Weekend, the traditional start of the summer boating season in most of the U.S. and Canada. Sea Tow Services International, the world’s largest marine assistance provider, and its non-profit arm, the Sea Tow Foundation for Boating Safety and Education, encourage all boat owners to enjoy a healthy and happy experience on the water by following these 10 boating safety tips.
Memorial Day Weekend is one of the busiest three days of the year on the water. Be safe.
1) Wear a Life Jacket. Sea Tow and the Sea Tow Foundation encourage the active use of life jackets by all recreational boaters, regardless of age. In 2008, the most recent year for which U.S. Coast Guard statistics are available, more than two-thirds of all fatal boating accident victims drowned – and of those, 90 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
“Our Sea Tow captains tell us they are frequently called to the scene of an accident where boaters are in danger of drowning because they are not wearing life jackets, even though there are now approved life jackets on the market that are lighter and less obtrusive than ever,” says Michelle Zaloom, Executive Director, Sea Tow Foundation for Boating Safety and Education. “Most boating accidents occur because of bad decisions rather than bad conditions – and the most common bad decision is the failure for every person to wear, or even have on board, a life jacket.
2) Choose a Designated Boat Driver. “Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents,” according to a U.S. Coast Guard report. Just as on land, law enforcement officers will stop erratic drivers on the water and test them for BUI (Boating Under the Influence), an offense punishable to law, similar to DUI.
Zaloom adds, “With the combination of sun, wind and exercise, even a boater with a small and legal amount of alcohol in his or her blood can become dangerously dehydrated and disoriented, and should not be at the helm. A designated driver will keep everyone safe without spoiling the fun.”
3) Check Your Fuel Level. Sea Tow recommends starting each boating trip with a full tank of fuel and an adequate oil supply, particularly for 2-cycle outboard engines. Fuel drop requests are among the most common calls received by Sea Tow operators. Don’t trust your fuel gauge – stay on top of the fuel level by knowing your boat’s fuel consumption per hour and keeping track of the time you have been under way.
4) Vent Your Bilge. Always remember to shut off the engine(s) while fueling and run the blowers for the required amount of time to vent all fumes from the bilge before restarting.
5) Inspect Your Bilge. Make sure to visually inspect the bilge for excess water and ensure the bilge pump is in proper working order before leaving the dock. If you are putting in at a boat ramp, spare yourself an unexpected bath by replacing the drain plug(s) before launching.
6) Update Your Charts. Another frequent call for help to Sea Tow comes from boaters who have run aground. Make sure you have the latest charts on board, both paper and – if you have a chart plotter – digital, so you can stay up to date on shifting shoal areas and other submerged hazards. For more information, visit www.allianceforsafenavigation.org
7) Check the Weather. Be sure to look at the tide tables, if you boat in tidal areas, and get an updated forecast before setting off for a day of boating. Learn to read cloud formations and look for the telltale “anvil” clouds that signal the approach of a thunderstorm. For more information, also be sure to listen to the National Weather Service broadcasts via your VHF radio.
8) Test Your VHF. No matter the size of your boat, a VHF radio is an essential safety tool. Make sure it is in working order before you leave the dock. Check with your local Sea Tow franchise; a growing number of locations offer free automated VHF radio checks to Sea Tow members on one of channels 24 to 28. A cell phone can be a useful back-up (especially if your boat has a 9-volt outlet you can use to charge the battery), but due to the unreliable nature of cell signals on the water, it should never replace a VHF.
9) File a Float Plan. Leave a float plan with details of your planned boating itinerary with a reliable person ashore whom you can count on to notify the U.S. Coast Guard and appropriate authorities if you don’t return by a designated time. For a detailed, U.S. Coast Guard-designed float plan template that you can fill in online and print out or download, visit www.floatplancentral.org.
10) Carry an Anchor. It’s surprising how many boats leave the dock without an anchor and an adequate amount of rode. Don’t overlook this vital safety tool, which can save your life in the event of engine failure by securing your boat until help can reach you.
“When in doubt, call Sea Tow,” adds Kristen Frohnhoefer, Sea Tow’s Chief Administrative Officer. “We have spent more than a quarter of century providing unmatched service to the boating community in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and around the world. Boaters can rest assured that if they see one of our yellow boats approaching, help is on the way.”
About Sea Tow:
Sea Tow Services International Inc. is the world’s leading marine assistance provider. Founded in 1983 by Chairman & CEO Capt. Joe Frohnhoefer, Sea Tow now serves over 160,000 members in more than 121 locations throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. For a full list of membership benefits, or to inquire about becoming a Sea Tow Services International franchise owner, please visit seatow.com.
About Sea Tow Foundation for Boating Safety and Education
In 2007, Sea Tow Services International received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the national, nonprofit, public service Sea Tow Foundation for Boating Safety and Education, which was created by Sea Tow Founder Capt. Joe Frohnhoefer to promote safe boating practices that directly reduce accidents, fatalities and property damage related to recreational boating. For more information, please visit www.boatingsafety.com.