Boaters need to remember safety tips

So close to getting on the water, but still so icy. That’s the feeling ebbing through the local boating community right now, as the ice field resting off of the south shore of Lake Superior moves in and out as the wind dictates.

It won’t be long, though, before owners of fishing boats, sailboats, paddle-powered crafts, personal water crafts and pleasure cruisers head out onto the big lake and enjoy the wonderful boating season – even if it is a little shorter than it has been in recent years.

With the delay in the start of the boating season, there has also been a delay in letting people know about an important week that is upon us.

National Safe Boating Week is the event, and the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies and organizations involved in promoting safe boating use the week to remind boaters about the importance of enjoying your ride on the water as safely as possible.

One of these organization promoting this week is the National Safe Boating Council, which is one of the strongest advocates of “Wear It!” This campaign is aimed at having all boaters using an appropriate life jacket for their type of on-the-water activity.

To many seasoned boaters the advice to wear a life jacket – or personal flotation device if you want to be technical – seems rather trite, but even old salts need to be reminded every now and then about the importance of life jackets.

According to the Coast Guard, more than two-thirds of fatal boating accident victims drowned and of those who drowned, 90 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

That added up to quite a few in 2013, too, with the Coast Guard reporting there were 226 deaths, as well as 1,687 injuries, suffered by boaters who were involved in 2,299 reported pleasure boating accidents.

I admit that when on a large fishing boat life jackets are not often worn by the crew, many of whom have spent years on the water. However, I’ll also admit that I always check out where the PFDs are and that they are readily available in case the need to don one arises.

For inexperienced boaters and those in smaller crafts who venture very far from shore, regardless of whether on the Great Lakes or inland waters, a life jacket should always be worn.

It is worth noting that of those nearly 3,000 boating accidents last year, the Coast Guard reports 70 percent of them were caused by inexperience, lack of knowledge of the area or unsafe operation.

With this in mind, the Guard recommends that all boaters take a safety course that is offered through local Coast Guard auxiliaries.

One of the key areas stressed in these courses is becoming familiar with navigational rules, which include informing boaters on how to avoid collisions, maintain a proper lookout, choose a safe speed based on experience and water conditions, operate safely around other vessels and near shore, overtake other vessels, maintain appropriate navigation lights, interpret sound signals such as horns and bells, especially in areas of restricted visibility, interpret distress signals and navigate using buoys and other navigational aids.

Other suggestions for safe boating, provided by the NSBC, include:

– Stay sober while boating – It’s dangerous to operate a boat when drinking. Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in all states and is a violation of federal law.

– Be aware of carbon monoxide – All boat engines produce carbon monoxide – an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas that can kill you in a matter of minutes. Boaters are killed every year because of improper cabin ventilation, poorly maintained equipment, and careless behavior.

Boaters don’t have to be inside the boat to be at risk, either, with people poisoned every year while on swim platforms and other areas of the boat where exhaust accumulates or is emitted. Use CO detectors on your boat and stay off the swim platform when the engine or generators are running.

– Get your boat checked – Coast Guard auxiliaries and the United States Power Squadrons offer a free vessel safety check. For information on how to have your vessel inspected, visit the website at www.vesselsafetycheck.org.

These check ups are also a good idea because Coast Guard patrol vessels will be able to see your inspection sticker on the boat and know your boat has had a thorough going over by a qualified person.

These are all good suggestions for making your boating season safer, but remember that it often boils down to using common sense to enjoy the water while avoiding mishaps.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.