B oating safety is, of course, paramount to all of us who head out onto the water. Truth be told, statistically speaking, boating is a rather shockingly safe activity.
Still, as captain of your boat you’re responsible for every angler, hunter, and crewmember aboard. So it’s incumbent on you to watch out for these three safety blunders that many boaters make.
The vast majority of the boaters out there get the minimum legally required safety gear, and consider that sufficient. But it’s not, by a long shot. The most glaring example is that you’re not required to carry even the most basic first-aid kit.
Going strictly by the regulations, you won’t have what you need to deal with common injuries such as a fish hook stuck in a body part, an accidental slice with the bait knife, or a hatch-slam on a delicate body part such as a finger or toe.
The need for a first-aid kit is the most example in which regulations don’t cover all the bases, but by no means is it the only one. Communications devices are another area in which many boats lack sufficient coverage.
On boats that go out into coastal bays, for example, it can be tempting to rely upon cell phone communications in case you need a tow, have a medical emergency onboard, or some other difficulty arises.
If you’ve never experienced a dropped call or a mysterious inability to obtain cell service, please speak up. Anybody? Anyone? We didn’t think so. Cellular simply can’t be relied upon as your sole communications device away from the dock. A DSC-active VHF radio is absolutely necessary, and is the bare minimum.
If you venture far from shore or deep into the backcountry, add an emergency signaling device to your list. Satellite messengers (like the SPOT or the DeLorme InReach) give you the ability to signal for help regardless of how remote your location may be. If you venture far offshore you should have an EPIRB, which gives you a direct SOS link to the Coast Guard, as well.
What other missing safety gear belongs on your boat? To a great extent, that depends on where and how you do your boating. The smart safety move might be as extreme as getting a hydrostatically released life raft, or as simple as stuffing a blanket and a bottle of drinking water into your gear bag. This is a judgment call—your judgment call—and it’s one that shouldn’t be made lightly.
Yes, boat maintenance and particularly engine maintenance is a safety issue. It’s pretty obvious that if you fail to maintain your engine, there’s a pretty good chance that sooner or later you’ll break down. Obviously, if you’re miles and miles from civilization, this is a problem. But even if you’re in an area where it’s easy to get a tow, engine breakdowns are still a major threat to your safety because they often serve as a contributor to catastrophic events.
Remember, most of the time a boat gets into serious trouble—such as swamping or sinking—the cause is often multifaceted. A boat doesn’t become swamped just because of big waves, but because it unexpectedly lost power in those big waves—maybe because of lack of maintenance. Then, the bow could no longer be kept toward the waves, which soon over-washed the transom.
On a boat, propulsion not only means speed, it also means control. Without it, you’re at the mercy of the seas.
Another maintenance factor that’s a regular contributor to danger on a boat is lack of attentiveness to the bilge. A dirty bilge is filled with the yicky stuff that somehow always seems to make its way below decks, ranging from leaves to sand to unidentifiable detritus. If you don’t regularly clean this stuff out, it can clog your bilge pump or cause the float switch to stick.
Imagine the scenario we mentioned a moment ago—the boat is in big waves, owing to a lack of maintenance. There’s a loss of power, the boat swamps, and now you can add an inoperative bilge pump to the list. The people in this boat were in danger the moment they left the dock, all because of a lack of maintenance.
Hey, I love to hate the weatherman just as much as anyone. Yes, he’s dead wrong so often you have to wonder why we even bother to tune in. But tune in we boaters must, because at least on the grand scale, the weatherman has a pretty good record.
He may not be able to tell you whether the rain will hit your neck of the woods or pass you by, but when NOAA posts small craft warnings with winds over 20 knots, nine times out of 10 you’ll be glad you stayed at home.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fish whenever there’s a puff of wind or a 10-percent chance of thunderstorms. Naturally, the size and type of your boat and the capability of your crew also play a huge role in making the go/no-go decisions. But it’s simply foolish to leave the dock without ever having checked the weather forecast.
It’s just as foolish to see one of those small craft warnings, and dismiss it out of hand because the weatherman is so unreliable. Once again, your judgment as captain comes into play. With regularity, a lack of judgment regarding these three blunders is what leads to a lack of safety on a boat.
Email Lenny Rudow at
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]