No one ever thinks they'll get hurt or drown while boating, but thousands of people do. Most of the incidents occur on open motorboats. The U.S. Coast Guard responds to accidents involving jet skis and other personal watercraft, cabin cruisers, canoes, kayaks, and pontoon boats too. If you’re planning to spend some of your summer on the water, make sure you’re doing everything you can to get back to the dock safely.
To help you get started, UR Medicine injury prevention expert Ray McLean shares this simple boating safety checklist for you and your family.
- Learn to swim. It’s the best way to enjoy the water safely.
- Wear a life jacket every time you go out on the water. In 2013, 84 percent of drowning victims were not wearing them. Accidents can happen far too fast to reach for a stowed life jacket.
- Have life jackets that fit everyone on board. Life jackets should be snug and not ride up. Don’t buy a child a life jacket he or she can “grow into,” and look for handle and crotch straps. Keep a few extra life jackets on board in a range of sizes for guests to use. Remember, flotation cushions and similar devices are not intended to be worn.
- There is a life jacket made for just about every activity on the water, so make sure yours is comfortable and suitable for its intended use. Are you participating in high-speed activities like jet skiing or wakeboarding? Will you be fishing or paddling? Will you be near fast currents or white water?
- Don’t drink alcohol. Boating under the influence of alcohol can be just as deadly as drinking and driving a car. Operators, passengers, and other vessels are at risk. Many alcohol-related boating fatalities occur when vessels are docked, anchored, or floating.
- Take a boating course. Most accidents on the water are caused by operator error. Boating education courses are mandatory for certain users, but everyone can benefit.
Make sure your vessel is safe. The U.S. Coast Guard offers a free Vessel Safety Check for all recreational boaters, including personal watercraft and paddle sport users. If you are on a larger boat, know how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning on your boat.
New York State offers much more extensive boating operation and safety information in its Boater’s Guide. Make it your beach reading this weekend!
Ray McLean, R.N., E.M.T.-P., is the injury prevention/outreach and education coordinator at UR Medicine’s Kessler Trauma Center in Strong Memorial Hospital.