Despite the oil spill looming just offshore, it’s important to remember that most beaches and recreational waters are still open. Florida Panhandlers and tourists are still out boating and fishing, which the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission strongly encourages.
If you’re a boater or fisherman, the magnitude of the Gulf Oil Spill may have taken your focus off boat safety this year, which is understandable. However, it’s relatively early in the season, so it’s time to buff up our safety skills and do everything we can to prevent boat accidents.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife’s 2009 Boating Accident Statistical Report, drowning is the leading cause of wrongful death in boat accidents. The main cause of boating accidents was simple inattention by the boat’s skipper, and most accidents involved collisions. It’s important to note that 70 percent of skippers who were involved in accidents last year had no formal boater education.
A shocking statistic: Only about 11 percent of victims of boat accidents were wearing life jackets. In fact, most drowned boaters are found without life jackets on. 18 percent of accident victims were definitely not wearing life jackets, and rescuers were unable to tell for sure the rest of the time.
Seven Safety Tips to Prevent Boat Accidents
1. Be “weather wise.” Check out the local weather conditions and forecast before you leave. (You might also want to check out oil spill conditions and whether there have been any fishing closures in your destination area.)
2. Check your checklist. A pre-departure checklist is a must. The professionals physically check everything, every time. Don’t do any less for yourself and your passengers. Also, take advantage of a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard.
3. Be alert and use your common sense. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. Don’t let other boats, animals, or obstacles take you by surprise.
4. Don’t drink alcohol. You won’t be alert if you’re drunk. You’re twice as likely to be in a boat accident if alcohol is involved. This rule goes for the skipper and at least one other person.
5. Designate an assistant skipper. If something happens to you, you’ll need at least one other (sober) person available who knows how to safely handle your boat and get everyone back to shore.
6. Distribute and wear proper life jackets. Make sure you and everyone else is wearing a properly sized, condition-appropriate life jacket that is in good repair. Pay particular attention to children and non-swimmers. Everyone on board should always note the location of and know how to use all safety equipment on the boat.
7. Make and communicate a float plan. Always make sure someone knows exactly where you are going and how long you intend to be gone. This is particularly essential if you are taking a small boat out alone.
Of course, anyone who plans to spend time on the water needs to know how to swim. And finally, all regular boaters should take a boating safety course and keep their skills up to date with regular refresher courses.
Now, head out and do your best to enjoy our beautiful Gulf Coast, and let’s have a safe boating season.
- “Oil spill: Boaters, anglers beware” (Pensacola News Journal, June 4, 2010)
- “Ahoy! This Week Is National Boat Safety Week” (Injury Board Kansas City, May 25, 2010)