Autumn… The summer sailors have packed it in, the tourists have gone home, and the deserted inland and coastal waterways are peaceful and relaxing – relaxing until you get into trouble that is. Although most boating accidents occur in July during the height of the summer boating season, the potential for serious injury rises dramatically in the off-season when there are fewer boaters and law enforcement officers on the water to provide assistance, or rescue. U.S. Coast Guard 2011 national accident data show that approximately one in 10 boating accidents in July involved a fatality; in December it was just over one in four. That’s something to think about.
Swamping, capsizing, and falls overboard, and the sudden storms that can cause them, become significantly more hazardous in the fall and winter when water temperatures drop. The key to avoiding a crisis is to be thoroughly prepared before going out. Here are some things you can do to maximize safety when boating in the off-season:
- Dress in layers and take along extra clothing in a waterproof bag. Consider wearing a float coat/jacket.
- Wear good quality, non-slip footwear; wear socks, even with sandals.
- Take along a good first aid kit.
- Put together a basic survival kit, including blankets, a VHF-marine radio, matches, disposable lighter, some dense-calorie food, and warm beverages like coffee or cocoa.
- File a Float Plan. Tell friends and family exactly where you’re going and when you plan to return.
- Boat with at least one other person, two is better. If someone is injured or falls in the water, the other can summon assistance or help them back in the boat.
- Consult a chart of the area where you’ll be boating. Know where to wait for help and how to summon help, if you need it.
- Take a boating safety course as well as a first aid and CPR course.
Peaceful surroundings and fall colors make the off season a great time to enjoy the nation’s lakes, coastal areas and waterways. The U.S. Coast Guard, along with other federal, state, local, and Canadian agencies, is working to improve safety on the water. So enjoy the quiet beauty, but for the sake of you and your passengers also take the time to plan for seasonal conditions and emergencies.
The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more information and tips on boating safety, visit http://www.uscgboating.org/.