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Things to know before going on the water

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mark Wyatt
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Now that summer has officially arrived and warmer weather is here to stay; many will participate in their favorite summer activity. For many granite staters, that activity may be enjoying one of the nearly 1,000 lakes, ponds or rivers located in New Hampshire.

But that summer fun isn't without risk, which falls in line with this year's Critical Days of Summer theme, "Risk: Double checks, not second thoughts."

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2013, 4,062 boating accidents involved 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries and approximately $39 million dollars' worth of damage to property as a result of recreational boating activities.

"Of the deaths reported in 2013, 398 of fatal boating accident victims drowned," said Senior Master Sgt. James Roberts, 157th Air Refueling Wing ground safety manager. "Of those, 328 were reportedly not wearing the proper personal protective equipment, or life vest."

Among the most common reasons for many of the reported accidents, operator distraction, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and machinery failure rank as the top five most common contributing factors in accidents, the website lists.

"Like driving a motor vehicle on roadways, operating a boat while distracted is a serious threat while on the water," said Roberts. "More than 550 accidents and 567 deaths were reportedly the result of operator distraction."

The ground safety manager went on to encourage Airmen to use sound risk management every day and in every activity they participate in on and off duty.

In addition to distracted operation of a boat, the Coast Guard lists these helpful tips to stay safe this summer season.

10 things to know before going

Be prepared: Have at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved or UL-listed personal flotation device for each person on board and make sure each life jacket is appropriate for each passenger's height and weight. Life jacket requirements and information can be found at www.uscgboating.org.

No substitutions allowed: Remember that inflatable swimming aids, such as toys, rafts, water wings, ski jackets or belts and other devices, can easily puncture and deflate and are not approved by the U.S. Coast Guard or certified by UL as a life safety device. These items are essentially toys and should not be used as a substitute for a PFD.

Do not overload the boat: Capsizing and falls overboard are the most common causes of fatal accidents and account for more than half of all boating fatalities. Pay attention to the capacity label on the boat and be careful not to overload small boats with passengers and gear.

Inspect a boat like a home: Ensure that the hand pump on the fuel tank is sturdy and contains no cracks. Inspect the bilge pump to ensure all fuel buildup has been cleared and no cracks have developed. For boats with inboard fuel supplies, ensure the bilge blower runs for a full minute prior to engine start. Check the bilge pump for proper operation.

Safety equipment: In addition to PFDs, ensure that all the necessary safety equipment is aboard. A VHF radio with the ability to monitor the emergency frequency, channel 16, is a necessity. Do not rely on cell phones for adequate coverage. Cell service at sea is sporadic and unreliable. Make certain the flare kit is serviceable and that the flares are not expired. A sound producing device is also required. A bell, horn or whistle will fit the bill. A well-stocked first aid kit will help get through any minor injuries until medical attention is available.

Take a safety course: Approximately 90 percent of all reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instructions. For those that own or plan on operating a boat, contact the local office of the U.S. Coast Guard to learn more about taking a boating safety course.

Remember the charts: Do not rely solely on electronics for navigation and trip planning. If the electronics fail, charts are a back-up. Keep a log for travel. Mark positions on the chart every twenty or thirty minutes for a sailboat, more frequently for powerboats. This information is invaluable if fog rolls in.

File a float plan with the Coast Guard: Filing a float plan will enable emergency services to narrow their search if someone is lost or overdue. Additionally, ensure family or friends know departure and return times, along with scheduled ports of call.

Check the weather: There are many weather resources available to mariners. Always check the weather forecast along the route before departure. Never depart with impending bad weather. Additionally, check the Notice to all Mariners for the planned cruising area.

Drink responsibly: Alcohol was listed as the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2008. Sun and dehydration can heighten the effects of alcohol, so be aware and drink responsibly. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

For more information on boating safety, contact the Safety Office at 603-430-2345.