The Travel Detective

The Importance of Boating Safety

boatingAsk anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I love boating. In fact, I’m addicted to getting out on the water. But I will never leave shore without certain items. Why? Because boating safety is no joke. Here’s what you need to know.

The Coast Guard tracks boating accidents in the U.S., and every year there are between 600 and 700 fatalities—representing about 13 percent of all accidents.

That’s more than airplane crashes, train wrecks, or even bus accidents. There are five major factors in all boating fatalities: operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and excessive speed.

Even the most responsible boaters can get into trouble.

The ocean can be very, very dynamic. It often is calm, beautiful, and pleasant. But it doesn’t take a whole lot for the weather to change or for a swell to arise. If you’re not prepared, or your vessel is not prepared to handle those changes or dynamic conditions, people find themselves in trouble.

The majority of deaths are due to drowning, and the number one reason behind that is the lack of life jackets.

A personal floatation device, or PDF, is non-negotiable. It’s mandated by the Coast Guard.

Think about it. Say you’re thrown from a boat and are injured or unconscious. What if you can’t swim or your clothes have become waterlogged?

What’s also crucial is making sure that life jacket fits properly. Children’s life jackets fit specific weight groups, so make sure you read that label carefully.

At least one community in Florida is doing something about the problem. In Pinellas County, which has the largest number of recreational boats in the state of Florida, the sheriff has started a life jacket loaner program for kids up to 90 pounds. It’s a very good idea.

What are other crucial items? A flare gun will get attention at night. The Coast Guard requires that boaters have at least three flare signals for day, and three for night.

A sound-producing device is another necessary tool.

Fire at sea is another major concern. So a fire extinguisher is a must.

Communication devices are another important tool. Your cell phone may work up to a certain distance, but all boats should have a VHF-FM Marine Radio to reach the Coast Guard or other emergency operator.

Here’s a major problem that many people don’t like to talk about: BUI (Boating Under the Influence). In fact, alcohol use was directly or indirectly related to about 17 percent of all boating fatalities.

Operating a small boat requires all of your senses and all of your mental acuity. The use of alcohol dumbs that down. The effects of sea sickness, dehydration, and sun exposure—all of which are common when working out on the ocean—can exacerbate the effects of alcohol and play into the downward spiral associated with that.

Now, all of these rules are second nature to those of us who grew up on the water.

But you’d be shocked to learn that there is no mandated safety or certification course for new boaters. The laws vary by state—some have no educational requirements at all.

The courses that are available are mostly online. But what you really need is hands-on experience.

So look for classroom courses, not just online through the United States Power Squadron or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

For more information about boating, check out:

By Peter Greenberg for