The weather many of us have waited for—boating weather—has finally arrived. And with it arrives the risks of that most pleasurable of pastimes on the water. But how many of us think about anything beyond the excitement of getting our craft back out?

Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 21 to 27, is meant to make you think. The National Safe Boating Council, which sponsors the week, promotes the use of life jackets and provides information regarding their usage. Wearing a life jacket really is the easiest and likeliest way to stay alive while out on the water should an accident put you in the drink. U.S. Coast guard statistics reveal that, in 2014, the reported cause of death in over three-fourths of all boating fatalities was drowning. And, of all those drowning victims, a staggering 84 percent did not have on life jackets.

Common Causes of Boating Fatalities

During 2014, 610 deaths happened out on the water, registering a slight increase over 2013. Of the contributing factors to accidents, the top five were:

  • Alcohol usage. This is the leading factor in over one-fifth of all deaths, where the primary cause was known.
  • Excessive speed.
  • Operator’s lack of attention.
  • Operator inexperience.
  • Improper lookout (not watching for other boats and hazards).

Two last interesting facts: Vessels less than 21 feet long were in use for eight out of every ten boaters who drowned, and open motorboats were involved in 47 percent of fatal accidents. These points mean that most drownings occurred when average families and friends were out for a day on the water.

So, What Am I Supposed to Do to Stay Safe?

Never fear—we have your top ten tips here. Our only desire is that you stay safe while on the water, so here we go!

  1. Always wear a life jacket, and always wear the proper kind. Insist that your crew (if any), family, and guests do the same, and always have a supply of life jackets on board. If you will be boating where the water is cold, life jackets become critical in preventing hypothermia by keeping your head above water and partially insulating your body. A person can be at risk of hypothermia in waters as warm as 60 to 70 degrees. And, we add—learn to swim or at least how to float for long periods. While these skills are no substitute for life jackets, anything that helps you stay alive in the water is a good thing.
  2. Never drink alcohol while in command of a boat. Perhaps you think this is a “duh!” comment, or perhaps you think this is asking too much. After all, many, many people enjoy a cold beer on a hot day. But, as we previously mentioned, alcohol is the leading contributing factor when it comes to boating deaths. Stay sharp on the water—leave the alcohol behind, on dry land.
  3. Take a course in boat safety. Only 12 percent of deaths happened when the boat’s operator had earned a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate. You could even qualify for a reduced insurance rate if you do. Your local Coast Guard Auxiliary has more information.
  4. Stay in control of your and your passengers’ safety. Boaters aged 36 to 55 were responsible for the highest percentage of fatalities and of injuries—33 and 38 percent, respectively. Remember: if you are piloting the boat, you are in charge, and safety is your responsibility.
  5. Put down your phone! Distractions can be deadly. Operator inattention on boats was a leading contributing factor in 563 accidents that resulted in 38 fatalities. It’s just like distracted driving: You need to keep your mind on what you’re doing and your hands on the controls.
  6. Keep an eye on the weather. If you’ve ever spent much time on the water, you know that storms can blow up quickly. If rough seas are predicted or in evidence, don’t go out. In 2014, bad weather contributed to 45 deaths.
  7. Run at a safe speed and obey all posted navigational rules. Know both your own limitations, and those of your boat.
  8. Use a carbon monoxide detector. Even out in the fresh sea air, carbon monoxide (CO) can accumulate and kill you, and kill you quickly. Because the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to alcoholic intoxication and seasickness, the cause of your illness might not be readily apparent. Historically, CO poisoning is a contributing factor in certain boating fatalities.
  9. Develop a float plan, and make sure someone on land has a copy of it. Good information to include in a float plan are: your name, address, and phone number; the names and phone numbers of all passengers; the boat’s description and registration information; the trip’s itinerary; and the variety of communication and signaling equipment you have, such as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).
  10. Before you go out, have your boat checked for safety by the U.S. Coast Guard, which offers safety checks at no cost.

Smartphone Aids for Boaters from the USCG

Owners of iPhones and Android phones can download a safety-oriented app from the US Coast Guard. The app provides boating safety resources and is self-contained, meaning that personal information stored on the phone is not sent to the Coast Guard unless the user chooses to do so. With this app, you can:

  • Request emergency assistance via a button in the app that will call the nearest USCG command center
  • File your float plan
  • Locate the latest safety regulations
  • Locate the official Navigation Rules
  • Request a check of your safety equipment
  • Request a safety check for your vessel
  • Locate the nearest NOAA buoy
  • Report hazards, pollution, or suspicious activity.

The USCG Boating Safety Mobile app is not meant to replace marine VHF radio. The Coast Guard urges all boaters to have marine VHF radio aboard their vessels.

Do You Need Help After a Boating Accident?

If you or a loved one were injured or killed due to a boating accident, you could be eligible for compensation to cover your injuries. Depending on liability and negligence factors, you could recover money associated with the treatment of your injuries, lost wages, wrongful death, or future medical care. Steven H. Heisler has dedicated his legal practice to the representation of personal injury victims, including those hurt or killed in boating accidents. The initial consultation is always free. If you’re interested in filing an accident claim, call the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler today at (410) 625-4878. If you prefer, use our convenient online contact form. Find out more about whether your boating claim will hold water.