With the arrival of warm weather and a holiday weekend upon us, many are preparing to head to the lake for their first outing of this year’s boating season. It’s a sad fact that, all too often, folks do so without giving proper consideration or planning to ensure that it’ll be a safe trip.
When we head to the lake, all of us focus on the good time that we’re expecting but it makes sense to understand the responsibility of operating a boat.
It’s not just your life that you have to consider. It’s the lives of your family, friends and all of those other boaters on the water as well.
Have a look at the latest statistics from the Coast Guard. As I’m sure you expect, they aren’t all pretty but it won’t hurt for anybody to let a few of these sink into their noggin.
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▪ In 2013, the Coast Guard counted 4,062 accidents that included 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries and approximately $39 million in damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
▪ The fatality rate was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This was a 13 percent decrease from the 2012 fatality rate of 5.4 deaths per 100,000 vessels.
▪ Around 13 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction.
▪ Drowning was reported as the cause of death in three-fourths of all fatalities.
▪ Approximately 84 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
▪ 22 children younger than 13 lost their lives while boating in 2013.
▪ Eight children, or approximately 36 percent, died from drowning. Five of them were not wearing a life jacket as required by state and federal law.
▪ Alcohol use ranks as a contributing factor in 16 percent of deaths.
▪ The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (46 percent), personal watercraft or jet-skis (18 percent) and cabin motorboats (17 percent).
▪ Operator inattention, inexperience, excessive speed, improper lookout and alcohol rank as the top five primary contributing factors in boating accidents.
▪ South Carolina ranks seventh in the nation for boating accidents with 124 boating mishaps causing 14 deaths in the state in 2014.
I was fortunate enough to experience the grand old days of boating on Lake Wylie. Crowds were only seen on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer with every cove as slick as glass throughout the week. There’s no doubt about it that our waters were much safer overall.
At the age of 12, my breaks from school were spent at the helm of an old 22-footer with a massive 210-horsepower Evinrude inboard/outboard sticking out the rear.
You could find me careening through the waters of the river as far north as Belmont and all the way down to the dam on any given summer day. It was the ultimate freedom for a boy growing up in these parts and I loved every minute of it.
As crazy as that sounds now, believe it or not, it was the norm for many of us. No one felt a need to worry about me or my friends who were doing the same thing and our parents trusted we knew the river, our boats and equipment like the backs of our hands.
How well do you know your boat?
It doesn’t matter if you’ve owned a vessel for three years or three outings, it’s smart to take time each trip to get reacquainted with how it handles.
Find an open area and practice turning, stopping, and reversing course at various speeds. Pay close attention to things such as your turning radius, stopping distance and overall maneuverability in a range of conditions.
Did you know that your handling is greatly affected by the amount of weight in the boat and how it’s distributed? If you’re used to having two people aboard and suddenly find yourself with five, things are going to change.
Boater safety goes far beyond the question of how many life jackets are on board and there are both mechanical and mental aspects to assure your day of fun won’t be your last.
Our state’s Department of Natural Resources offers these tips for keeping it safe:
Before you leave:
▪ Fill out a float plan outlining your day and leave it with a responsible individual.
▪ Check the weather.
▪ Let someone know where you’re going.
▪ Gather all lifesaving devices. Make sure they are in good, serviceable condition and are the correct size for all passengers, especially children.
▪ Check the fuel and the battery charge.
▪ Make sure lights work on the boat and trailer.
▪ Make sure the fire extinguisher is readily accessible and in good serviceable condition.
▪ Put the plug in.
▪ Connect trailer safety chain to tow vehicle.
▪ Carry a cellphone.
On the water:
▪ Know the aids to navigation and buoy system in your area.
▪ Don’t operate the boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
▪ When operating sailboats, be aware of overhead power lines and wires.
▪ If someone falls overboard, throw something that will float, such as a personal flotation device, raft or cooler.
▪ All boats approaching from the right have the right-of-way.
▪ Always anchor from the bow of the boat and pull the anchor before leaving.
▪ If the boat capsizes, stay with the boat.
▪ If caught in a storm, head into the wind, put on personal flotation devices and keep passengers low in the boat.
▪ Call Operation Game Thief at 800-922-5431 to report boating, fishing or hunting violations.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.