Keep Your Cool – Summer Boating Tips from NBOA

By Patrick Farrell June 24, 2009

Boat Safety

Each Summer, millions of Americans head out on the water. Whether you are fishing or just cruising around, accidents do happen. Learn how to prevent them and stay safe.

Nothing evokes the carefree, easy-going lifestyle of summertime quote like spending a day on the boat. Whether you’re chugging beside the coastline with the family, raking in baitfish at the crack of dawn for a day of fishing, or speeding along in a motorboat, the wind in your hair and the cool spray of water on your face, boating is best enjoyed hot!

Millions of Americans enjoy boating each year. Although we all want to stay safe, accidents do happen – many of them. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, over 5,000 motorboat accidents occurred in the U.S. in 2007 – and 685 of them were fatal. Sadly, most of those accidents could have been prevented.

Consider these statistics:

  • In 2007, 86 percent of motorboat deaths happened in boats whose operators had not taken boating safety courses.

  • Most drowning deaths took place when boats capsized or passengers fell overboard.

  • Most accidents were caused by speeding, reckless or careless operation and irresponsible actions by passengers.

  • More than a third of boating accidents and related deaths happened on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.

  • About one in five boating deaths was due to alcohol use.

Make your trip exciting and safe by following some basic rules:

1. Always wear a life jacket. Four out of five of those who drown in boating accidents are not wearing them. Have each passenger wear a properly fitting Coast Guard-approved life vest. Children are required by law to wear life jackets. For more information on lifejackets and to choose the correct lifejacket visit

2. Don’t mix alcohol and boating.Drinking is the number one factor in fatal boating accidents.

  • Alcohol quickly affects a driver on the water just like on the road. Water motion, engine noises, sun and wind all contribute to impairment. These factors, plus alcohol, can cause fatigue and affect reaction time, coordination, balance, vision and judgment.
  • Capsizing and/or falling overboard are the main causes of death in more than half of all alcohol-related boating accidents.
  • Alcohol can affect balance. This makes it easier to fall and harder to know up from down when in the water.

3. Keep an eye on the sky.

  • Listen to weather reports before you leave home. Don’t let yourself be caught in gale winds, thick fog or a thunderstorm.
  • Have a VHF radio on board to forewarn you of wind conditions and approaching storms.
  • If you see the formation of thick dark clouds, head for shore. This indicates that a storm is approaching. Turn off any electronic devices.
  • Determine the distance of a storm by counting the seconds between a flash of lightning and the clap of thunder. Every five seconds equals about one mile. If it takes 10 seconds to hear thunder, the storm is two miles away.

4. Avoid hypothermia. A fall overboard in cold weather quickly disables the use of your arms and legs and your ability to think. Most victims die from the frigid water before ever breathing any into their lungs. Some things to remember:

  • Wear a hat. Over half of your body heat is lost through the head.
  • Dress in layers. Your body heat will warm the water within the layers.
  • Stay still to retain body heat. Don’t swim; it will make you colder by releasing the warmer water within your clothing and replacing it with cold. Experts recommend floating, curled in a ball and breathing by turning your head to the side when bobbing to the surface.

5. Take a boating safety course. In 2006, 70 percent of boating deaths involved operators who had not taken a course.

6. Have an annual Vessel Safety Check. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Power Squadron offer these inspections for free.

Prevent motorboat accidents by following the rules of the waterways. Whether you’re fishing, waterskiing or just cooling off with a refreshing speedboat ride, enjoy your voyage and make it safely back to shore.

Stay safe out there and enjoy the Summertime holidays!

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