By Josh Boyd
If ever you find yourself questioning the significance of boating safety, ponder upon the following scenario.
The next time you prepare to depart for your favored marine destination, bid your family farewell and assure them you will return shortly.
Now, imagine that this is the final opportunity you will ever have to see your loved ones faces again.
As painful as this visualization might be, this tragic scenario becomes a reality for many families all across the map, year after year.
Even more tragic is the fact that the vast majority of these instances could have been prevented in their entirety had proper boating safety been implemented to the fullest.
According to the last published U.S. Coast Guard survey, there were 658 deaths and 2,629 injuries that occurred as the direct result of recreational boating accidents on American waterways in 2017.
In this survey, drowning accounted for 76% of all deaths recorded.
Of that statistic, 84.5% were not wearing a life vest.
While one life vest per occupant of any vessel is required by the U.S. Coast Guard, relatively few boaters ritualistically wear their personal flotation device for the complete duration of their outing.
Because of this, countless boaters drown every year while their unworn life vest floats in the water a short distance away.
The idea that an unworn life vest can save your life in the event of a boating accident is no less flawed than the notion that an unworn seatbelt will save your life during the course of an automobile accident.
Likewise, in the majority of cases, you would come no closer to being able to don your life vest while in the midst of a boating accident than you would be able to buckle your seatbelt during an automobile wreck.
Many boaters who opt against wearing their life vest say that the cumbersome nature of it restricts movement and makes all day use unbearable. Upon research however, many would be surprised to find this is not always the case.
The type and style of life vest that’s best suited for use is directly dependant upon your intended activity. Careful assessment of life vest classification in correlation to their intended use is highly recommended.
In the majority of cases, there are now compact options on the market that allow unobstructed movement and improved comfort. Advances in technology have led to vests being made of lighter weight construction as well as inflatable options.
Comfort factor aside, a life vest is only as good as your willingness to wear it. Discomfort is a small price to pay in exchange for preventing your family from one day wondering if you might have returned home had you just worn your life vest.
Also noted in the 2017 U.S. Coast Guard recreational boating statistical survey was the designation that 81% of all recreational boating fatalities occurred on vessels where the operator had no prior formal boating safety education.
The value of proper boater safety education cannot be overstated. An absence of education can quickly lead to a lack of awareness.
This lack of awareness has the potential to allow subtle items of safety to go overlooked, leading to devastating consequences.
Boater education classes encompass a broad range of topics that assist an operator in becoming more versed and multifaceted in their mindset towards all areas of vessel operation and safety.
Classes typically cover topics such as required safety equipment, navigation and communication, and how to deal with emergencies and adverse conditions.
Although not required in all states, the completion of a nationally approved boating safety course for all vessel operators is highly recommended.
While the completion of such a course does not completely eliminate the possibility of an accident taking place, it does better equip you to handle such a situation should the need arise.
Alcohol use and impairment while operating a vessel is also a commonly cited factor in recreational boating accidents. The 2017 U.S. Coast Guard recreational boating survey listed alcohol use as the leading factor in 19% of all fatalities on American waterways for the year.
Boating while impaired is no different than operating a car in the same condition.
Because of the operator’s inattentiveness and slowed reaction timing, the potential for accidents to happen while operating a boat under the influence multiplies exponentially and often leads to devastating consequences.
In many states, boating under the influence is perceived the same way by law that driving under the influence is in a motor vehicle. In these cases, a conviction of boating under the influence also carries similar legal consequences and ramifications as well.
An operator of a vessel is also wise to know their own limitations, as well as those of the craft they operate.
Canoes, kayaks, and small fishing boats can quickly become distressed by heavy surface chop and extensive wakes put off by significantly larger vessels found in large open water.
Likewise, sizable boats that set lower in the water should be advised against shallow water creek navigation. The potential for running ashore or become beached upon unseen objects becomes a very real possibility in this situation.
In all cases, a boater should adhere to all state and federal laws and regulations when on the water.
If at any point you feel inconvenienced by these regulations, remember that their sole reason for being implemented is to keep yourself and others safe while on the water.
In all cases, the decision to willfully ignore boating safety rules, regulations, and advisories is nothing more than one signifying that they do not hold their own life, nor the lives of anyone on their vessel, in high regards.
Once tragedy has struck, you will never be able to wish away the devastation caused by an accident that could have been avoided.
As you venture out on the water this year, ponder upon the fact that implementing proper boating safety practices and adhering to them at all times is only a small inconvenience that will prevent a lifetime full of sorrow and regret for yourself or your family.
So boat safely—your life depends on it.