Saturday, May 21, 2005

Boating Safety Starts with Caution

Boating safely starts with caution By Willie Howard Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Thursday, May 19, 2005 Hot weather is here. Schools will soon close for the summer. Boats are coming out of storage, and many boaters are preparing for the wet days ahead. Some points to consider: • Boating can be dangerous. Sixty-eight people died in boating accidents in Florida last year, including two in Palm Beach County and one in Martin County. • Wearing a life jacket at all times while on the water increases a boater's chance of survival in an accident. According to the North American Safe Boating Campaign, drowning is the leading cause of death in recreational boating accidents nationwide, and 86 percent of those who drowned in 2003 were not wearing life jackets. • Operators of fast-turning personal watercraft should look for other boats before making sharp turns, said Chief Petty Officer Brian Leavy of the Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet. "They turn so fast a boat can't get out of their way," Leavy said. "Look before you turn." • Passengers should not ride on the bow of a boat. Law enforcement officers will stop the boat if they see bow riding. If a passenger falls from the bow, he or she would likely be hit by the boat or its propellers. • Skippers should file a float plan before leaving. A brief note left with a friend or relative will do. Describe the boat. Be specific about where the boat will leave port, where you plan to go boating, who is on board and when you are due back. Note special medical needs of those on board. • Make sure there's a life jacket of the proper size for each person on board and that life jackets can be easily accessed in an emergency. Life jackets wrapped in plastic and stuffed away below the deck do not meet the ready requirement. • Call the Coast Guard Auxiliary (800) 368-5647 (www.vesselsafetycheck.org) or the United States Sail & Power Squadron (888) 367-8777 to schedule a free vessel examination or inquire about safe-boating courses. Examiners usually make helpful recommendations and notice things that boat owners miss. Consider taking a boating course or picking up a free copy of the state's How to Boat Smart booklet at tax-collectors' offices. Find online courses at www.myfwc.com or www.boatus.org/onlinecourse. • If you're boating offshore or going to the Bahamas, consider purchasing or renting an EPIRB. • Don't drink and drive a boat. If you want to drink while on the water, designate a non-drinking, qualified skipper. • Divers, often swept away from groups by current, should have a way to make themselves visible in the water, such as an inflatable safety tube, a strobe light or a reflecting mirror. A white trash bag is better than nothing. • Divers and snorkelers must pull a float-mounted dive flag, at least 12 inches square. Boats carrying divers must display a dive flag at least 20 inches by 24 inches. Boaters must stay at least 300 feet away from a dive flag in open water and at least 100 away in inlets, rivers and channels. • When running inlets, think about wind and tides before heading out. An east wind pushing against an outgoing tide can make waves stand up. If an inlet looks questionable, stop well before the waves and study it. Don't attempt to turn around when the boat is in the big waves. Want to see an inlet before leaving home? Check out Palm Beach County's inlets online at www.co.palm-beach.fl.us. Search for "webcams." • To report problems on the water, call the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's law-enforcement hotline at (888) 404-3922 (#FWC by cell phone). The state offers cash rewards for information leading to the arrest of drunken boat operators. Also call the Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. In emergencies, use a cell phone to call 911. Palm Beach Post

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