September 03, 2021
By Jeff Moag
It’s been a hot pandemic summer, and with Labor Day just around the corner boaters from coast to coast are preparing to send out the season in style.
All that boating fun will translate to crowded waters—especially this year, with more people than ever before enjoying America’s waterways thanks to a pandemic-fuelled boom that brought more than 415,000 new boat owners into the fold since 2020.
Here are seven things you can do to stay safe on crowded waters this season.
#1 – Wear Your Life Jacket
Seventy-nine percent of deaths of boating deaths last year were drownings, and 86 percent of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets—an alarming statistic that has remained remarkably consistent for more than a decade. The most effective way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe is for everyone to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket at all times when they’re on the water.
#2 – Don’t Drink and Boat
In addition to affecting the operator’s coordination and judgment, alcohol also impairs the ability of passengers to respond in an emergency. Keep in mind that sun, wind, waves and a boat’s motion in the water can accentuate the effect of alcohol, which means that drink-for-drink, a boat operator may become impaired more quickly than someone driving a car. According to U.S. Coast Guard reports, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 23 percent of deaths.
#3 – Engage the Engine Cut-off Switch
Using a safety lanyard, formally called an engine cut-off switch (ECOS), has always been a good idea to avoid runaway boats and prop injuries. As of April this year, it’s also required by federal law for most vessels under 26 feet and all personal watercraft.
#4 – Take a Course
In-person boating classes are back on, and taking an online course has never been easier. If you haven’t completed a boating course (or if it’s been awhile since you did), now’s the time. Many live, virtual and hybrid boating safety education classes are available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, America’s Boating Club and private boating schools.
#5 – File a Float Plan
Before any boating excursion, make sure to share your float plan with friends, family or your local marina. This should include the names of all aboard with contact information including cell phone numbers, your planned itinerary and when you expect to return. That way searchers will know when and where to begin a search if you don’t return as scheduled.
#6 – Watch the Weather
Plan your boating activity according to weather forecasts and conditions. Check the weather in advance and monitor it continuously via radio, mobile weather apps and your own eyes. Stay vigilant for changing tides, currents, winds and other signs of inclement weather. Should you be on a boat when Mother Nature unleashes her fury, seek shelter as soon as possible and notify your shore contact of any changing plans.
#7 – Avoid the Crowds
Boating in a crowd brings with it a host of challenges and potential hazards—something to keep in mind this year, with boating participation expected at record levels. If boat traffic is at holiday weekend levels all summer, just imagine what Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are going to look like. The best advice for days like that is to pay attention. You’d be surprised how many boating accidents come down to operator distraction or inattention. Brush up on the Rules of the Road, and keep your eyes peeled in crowded waterways. Better yet, consider avoiding them altogether on crowded holiday weekends and choose a less congested venue where you can relax. Because after 15 months of pandemic lockdown, you don’t need the stress.