National Safe Boating Week 2012
May 19-25, 2012 This past Saturday marked the start of National Safe Boating Week 2012. It is no coincidence that this week takes place in the days leading up to Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the recreational boating season.
National Safe Boating Week is an opportunity to highlight the importance of safety precautions and sensible behavior when spending time on the water, including wearing a life jacket, not boating under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and being aware of other general boating safety practices.
Knowing How a Boat Handles Can Help Avoid Collisions
No matter how experienced you may be as a boater, it’s worth paying attention to the handling characteristics of every boat you own or operate. Every boat – even boats of the same type, from the same manufacturer – handles differently.
Your own boat responds differently from day to day as a result of weather, current, temperature, load, and other factors.
The boater who ignores handling characteristics is risking his safety. Coast Guard data show that “collision with another vessel” is the number one type of recreational boating accident; “collision with a fixed object” is second.
If you’re interested in the technical factors that influence handling characteristics – things like side force, frictional wake current, and drag – a review of one of the many boat handling and seamanship publications, or the specifications supplied with your boat, will provide a wealth of useful information.
But in the meantime, there are simple steps that the U.S. Coast Guard recommends that every boater – including experienced boaters –go over as a matter of routine.
Drill It In
Whether you’ve been operating a particular boat for three years or three minutes, it’s a good idea to try some drills related to boat handling. Pick an open area on a calm day. Practice turning, stopping, and reversing course at various speeds, and pay attention to your turning radius, stopping distance, and maneuverability when the boat has more or less momentum.
Later, try the same drills in rougher water, with more wind, and with more or less weight in the boat. You may be surprised how much these variables can change the way your boat handles. At a minimum, these drills should be conducted on an annual basis, especially if you live in an area of the country where your boat is stored during the winter. Once your boat has been launched for the summer boating season, take some time to reacquaint yourself with your vessel’s handling characteristics.
A Weighty Issue
Do you know how much you weigh? Not trying to ask personal questions – but as the boat owner or operator, it’s important that you know the total weight of the equipment and persons you bring on board, and make sure that it’s within the limits listed on your boat’s capacity plate (if one is provided). You must take into consideration everything you’ve taken on board, such as fishing gear, a cooler, water (eight pounds per gallon), food, and fuel (six pounds per gallon). Exceeding your boat’s rated capacity is dangerous and can severely affect safe handling.
Even if you’re within the appropriate weight limit for your vessel, that weight must be properly distributed. Power trim and trim tabs are useful tools – but it’s better to carefully balance weight fore an aft, port and starboard, to avoid listing or “porpoising” – both of which make handling a vessel more difficult.
If you are going out on the water – please boat responsibly. Just like driving on the road, when you are on the water things can change in a split second. Here’s what happened to a one boater who took his eyes off the water.
Trees and large branches can float down- stream after falling into the water (creating snags or deadheads), sometimes lodging in the bottom of the river. These become serious hazards to watercraft. Many of them also float just below the surface of the river, hidden like a mine from the unsuspecting boater and serious damage can result from hitting one of them.
At best you will be left with a repair bill for hull repairs, major structural damage, or a new propeller or a lower drive unit. At worst, your boat could hit a deadhead at night and capsize, resulting in injury or death.
NOAA News is Good News
Finally, check the weather before you go out – and not just to find out whether or not you’ll need a sweater. Wind and waves, in particular, can drastically change a boat’s handling characteristics. Take a few minutes to listen to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) marine forecast on your VHF radio, even if it’s currently bright and sunny. You’ll be much better off making the conscious decision not to pilot your boat in 30-mile-per-hour winds than accidentally finding out you’re incapable of it.
Yes, you may be an experienced boater, but even if you were born with tiller in hand, it’s worth taking a little extra time to make sure you’ve mastered the handling of this boat on this day under these conditions to avoid a boating accident.
You Are The “Captain Of Your Ship”
Your water fun depends on you, your equipment and other people who, like you, enjoy spending leisure time on, in, or near the water. As a boat operator, you are the “captain of the ship.” You are legally obligated to know the federal, state and local regulations that apply to your watercraft and the waters where you go boating.
It is also your obligation to have the safety equipment required by law, to keep it in good condition and on board, and know how to properly use these devices. You must have a complete knowledge of your boat, its handling and the boating rules of the road.
Boating – Rules Of The Road
You learned the “Rules of the Road” before you sat behind the wheel of a car — and you should do the same before taking the helm.