Wear life jackets, follow safety tips to keep boating experiences enjoyable
Recreation on the water is a way of life in the state of Missouri, which is home to hundreds of lakes, rivers and streams. Unfortunately, nearly any body of water that holds the potential for fun and relaxation also holds the potential for accidents and deaths.
On average, Missouri sees 126 boating accidents and 14 boating-related fatalities each year, with unintentional drownings making up nearly 78 percent of deaths, according to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division and the Missouri Water Patrol. Nationwide, nearly 350 people die in boating-related incidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tragically, many of those deaths could be prevented by the proper use of personal flotation devices, or PFD, which includes a variety of wearable life jackets, as well as throwable devices, such as ring buoys and floatable cushions. According to Coast Guard statistics, in nearly 84 percent of boating-related fatalities in 2018, the victims were not wearing life jackets.
Under Missouri law, all vessels 16 feet in length and longer must have a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board along with at least one approved throwable device. While boats under 16 feet are only required to have a throwable PFD under state law, federal law mandates that a wearable PFD is required for every person on board, and all PFDs must be stored properly. State officials strongly recommend that everyone wears life jackets while on the water.
The Coast Guard’s online guide to life jackets, available at https://bit.ly/2L2WKlt, notes that not all life jackets are equal in every situation. It recommends that when selecting a life jacket, users should:
— Make sure it fits by checking the manufacturer’s label to ensure the jacket is right for the size and weight of the person using it and then trying it on.
— Make sure the jacket is properly fastened.
— Make sure the jacket won’t ride up in the water. This can be achieved by trying the jacket on and holding your arms over your head while a friend grasps the top of the arm openings and gently pulls up. Also, make sure there is no excess room above the openings.
— Note: children should use life jackets designed for children — adult jackets will not work.
Other safety tips
In addition to proper PFD use, multiple agencies also recommend the following safety tips:
— Get training. Inexperience is one of the four leading causes of boating accidents. Missouri law requires every person born after Jan. 1, 1984, who operates vessels on any lake in the state to complete safety education classes and carry a boating safety identification card issued by the Missouri Water Patrol. Training can be completed online at https://www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/WP02Web/app/safetyEdClasses.
— Avoid alcohol. Alcohol, drugs and boating safety don’t mix. It’s well known that alcohol can impair reaction times, vision, balance and judgment, all of which magnify two more leading causes of boat crashes: inattentiveness and recklessness. Worse yet, the debilitating effects of drugs and alcohol are often amplified by distracting factors while boating, including glare, wind, uneven motion caused by waves and the noise and vibration caused by the watercraft itself.
— Slow down. Speeding is the fourth major cause of accidents. The faster the speed, the less time there is to avoid other watercraft.
— Be aware of your wake. When setting out, boat operators should maintain a slow, no-wake speed until farther than 100 feet from shore. Large wakes caused by “plowing” can create hazards for other boaters and cause damage to docks and shorelines. The Missouri Water Patrol cautions that boat operators who illegally operate at “plowing speed” near shore can face penalties.
— Make sure boats and equipment are in good working order before setting out. Open all hatches and run the blower after refueling and before getting underway. Sniff for fumes before starting the engine and if you smell fumes, do not start the engine. Also, make sure boat lights are operational and test them before heading out.
— Have proper safety equipment on board. In addition to PFDs, keep a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, cell phone, maps, flares, a radio or weather radio on hand. Keep emergency supplies and equipment in a floating container or pouch that’s easily accessible if the boat capsizes.
— Don’t overload boats with passengers or items. Pay attention to the boat’s capacity, and don’t allow passengers to ride on gunwales, railings or seatbacks. Overloading can lead to “swamping,” where the boat partially fills with water; capsizing or sinking.
Before setting out, plan effectively by following these tips:
— Be aware of all navigation rules of the water, state laws and regulations. These rules do differ by state and locality.
— Pay attention to weather forecasts and the time of year, such as early spring, when cold-water precautions should be taken.
— Practice common sense, such as letting someone know where you’re going, when you’ll be on the water and when you expect to return.
Safe Boating Week
To combat boating deaths, multiple agencies across the country, including the Water Patrol, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center and the National Weather Service are promoting National Safe Boating Week, which runs May 16 to 22.
More tips, fact sheets and ways to participate online are available at https://www.weather.gov/safety/safeboating-week.