MARK KUCHERA SEES BOATING SAFETY in a new light. Having worked in a managerial position in the boating industry for years he has always put an emphasis on safety both in his own ventures and in on the water boat testings.
But a recent incident on Lake Conroe showed him that anyone can get complacent.
“A customer expressed interest in one of our boats. It was a Sportsman 214-an extremely well performing boat and one of the things I tell my customers when they are looking at our boats is that we need to get out on the water because everybody’s boat rides good when it’s smooth,” Kuchera said.
“They need to be able to see how the boat they want to get really performs.”
The customer took him up on the offer and said he had a 10-year-old 19-foot boat with a 90 horsepower motor on it.
“We picked a day and met out on Lake Conroe. It was really windy with south winds probably at 25 miles an hour,” Kuchera said.
“There were two foot whitecaps but that doesn’t scare me in that boat because it handles very well,” he added.
Kuchera put on his inflatable and asked the customer if he wanted to do the same before launching.
“We get off and we start going and are riding with the waves at that point. The boat is handling wonderfully. And we are going at around 50 miles per hour,” he said.
Again, this was a rough day with continually declining weather.
“The customer turned and started going horizontal with the waves,” Kuchera said.
One of the waves pushed the boat hard to the right and when it did, the customer overcorrected to the left and then the bow went down and the boat was instantly pushed over.
“I held on as long as I could and then I was in the water, and my customer was in the water. The water was cool and the waves were pounding and was pretty scary there for a minute,” Kuchera said.
The customer who did not choose to wear a life jacket also did not attach the lanyard that kills the boat if an incident such as this were to occur. The boat kept on going as they huddled together realizing that even with one inflatable stuck in the middle of Lake Conroe they would be alright.
Eventually some anglers were coming in due to the weather conditions and picked them up and brought them over to the boat which was essentially unharmed on a bank with the motor running.
“I got in the boat and we were able to get it back to the dock with no issues,” Kuchera said.
At the time he didn’t know his shoulder was hurt, but after visiting three different specialists it was determined he had rotator cuff damage.
It, however, could have been much worse.
Kuchera now says all points of safety are not only considered but enforced during boat demonstrations and he tells everyone within earshot to wear their life jacket and to attach the kill chord.
“Boaters should never assume because they have experience with one kind of boat that they can safely operate another. We should all slow down a little and focus on safety first and enjoy the amazing times that boats can help provide.”
Life jackets must meet United States Coast Guard (USCG) compliance for each wearer. With few exceptions, all children under 13 must wear a USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD) all the time while aboard a boat. In states that have their own child PFD-wear requirements, each state’s requirement is to be followed.
Child life jacket requirements for all 50 states can be found on the Life Jacket Advisor website: LifeJacketAdvisor.com.
Children’s life jackets are sized according to a child’s weight (not by chest size as they are for adults). As a general rule for PFD designations, “Infant” is for 8 to 30 pounds; “Child” is for 30 to 50 pounds; and “Youth” is for 50 to 90 pounds. However, “fit” is the ultimate criteria.
Lake patrol officials say a life jacket must fit for it to do its job right, so just having a life jacket on doesn’t necessarily mean someone is in compliance with the law.
Mary Snyder of Absolute Outdoor said it’s important to ‘think safety’ if you’re headed to the water.
“At the top of the list is to make sure all life jackets are in good condition and still fit properly, especially in the case of youth. Young bodies change quickly and a good-fitting life jacket is not only essential for safety – it’s also the law.”
It has to be snug, with all straps and closures fastened, and that’s one of the things they check on boaters.
PFDs for infants and small children should have a padded head support to help keep the head above water, a leg strap to help keep the flotation device from riding up, and a grab handle to assist in retrieving a wearer out of the water.
Look for a life jacket’s size designation on label information located on the inside area of its back.
“A good fitting life jacket is also more comfortable to wear. Complement the right fit with a stylish design and/or one that looks similar to mom and dad’s, and most kids are good for spending the entire day in them.
“PFD designs and materials have come a long way in form and function, but they still only work when worn. Adults serve as the best example to youngsters by always wearing theirs, too,” Snyder added.
Design engineers at Absolute Outdoor, makers of Onyx and Full Throttle life jackets, say it only takes a few minutes to inspect life jackets, so first check for rips, tears, and holes, and then make sure seams, fabric straps, and hardware are in good condition. Waterlogging, mildew odor, or shrinkage of the flotation foam are signs of performance concerns.
Lastly, try the life jacket on. If it no longer fits, replace it.
Fishing and boating are loads of fun but let the Kuchera’s story be a reminder that can turn into extreme danger. Be prepared and survive to hit the water another day.
— TFG Staff Report