With warm weather just on the horizon, prime boating season is upon us. And you might notice more people on the water than ever, because sales of recreational boats have been growing at a steady clip for seven consecutive years now, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Fortunately, the number of boating accidents isn’t growing at the same pace—in fact, they are decreasing. In 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, accidents were down nearly 4% versus 2016; fatalities dropped by more than 6%, and injuries by over 9%.
That’s great news, but in order to make sure those numbers keep moving in the right direction, boaters need to keep making safety a priority. We’re here to help: Just in time for National Safe Boating Week May 18-24, we’ve compiled some tips for anyone who’s about to climb aboard.
Choose the right types (and sizes) of life jackets—and make sure everyone wears them.
There are different types of life jackets for various activities, such as vest-type jackets for calm, inland waters, offshore jackets with additional buoyancy designed for rougher water, and even some made for waterskiing, kayaking, etc. Think about what you’ll be doing, where you’ll be headed, and who will be with you, so you have the ones you need. (Click here for a great guide.)
Each individual on board (even pets) should have a life jacket that fits properly, and most important, they should wear it at all times—there probably won’t be time to throw one on when something bad happens unexpectedly. According to the Coast Guard, in most cases of boating-related drowning, life jackets were on board but they weren’t worn by victims.
Make sure you have other key safety equipment on board.
There are plenty of other items you should have (or consider having) on your boat to increase safety. Fire extinguishers are required on most boats, even small vessels, so make sure you have the right type and that you know how to use it. If you have an enclosed area on your boat, you should install a carbon-monoxide detector.
Cell phones don’t always work well when you’re out on the water, so a VHF radio can ensure you’re able to call for help—it might be a good idea to get an emergency position-indicating radio beacon in case you get lost, too. And finally, you should always carry an anchor and signal lights, even if you aren’t planning on being out at night.
Use common sense, both before and after you launch the boat.
Keeping your boat’s systems and equipment (including safety gear, of course) in good shape is the first step to preventing problems, so put in the time to perform inspections and maintenance tasks as needed. Then, before any trip, no matter how quick, check the weather. Look for wind and small-craft advisories in particular.
When you hit the water, the fun can begin! But keep in mind that a quiet, enjoyable day can change in just an instant, too. So don’t speed. Don’t drink or allow excessive distractions. Remember that there are other people out there too, and that when everybody does their part, boating is a lot more fun—and a lot safer—for us all.