Friday, June 10, 2005

Safety checks now mean better boating later

Safety checks now mean better boating later By Wayne Brewer / Special to The Citizen Millions of Americans use some type of watercraft. The state reported in 2003 there were 5,817 registered boats in Cayuga County. Cayuga County is blessed with several bodies of water to enjoy boating. There can be problems, particularly on weekends and holidays, with heavy activity. According to Sergeant John Leja, who supervises the navigation unit with the Cayuga County sheriff's department, there were four boating accidents last year in the county. There are three things to remember to avoid problems: common sense, courtesy, and ethics. Because we share the waterways with others, it is important to respect each other's rights and obey the laws and basic safety principles to have a safe and enjoyable boating experience. Boat Check If you have not already done so, start with a service and safety check on your boat, motor and trailer. Don't tie up the launch for hours trying to start your engine or repair your boat. Inspect the hull for any damages. Have your motor or engine serviced. Pay particular attention to the fuel system, gas tanks, hoses and couplings and replace any that are leaking or worn. Check out the electrical system, gas fumes and electrical sparks can create some unexpected fireworks. For safety reasons, any boat with a motor should have a Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher. The law requires all motorboats carry an anchor and enough rope to insure safe anchorage. A whistle or horn is required on every mechanically-propelled vessel. Every boat 16 feet or more needs to carry a one-foot square fluorescent orange distress flag and three handheld red flares for nighttime use. Do not forget the trailer. Examine the winch, rope and rails so your boat does not come off on the highway or roll off when you go around a bend. The trailer needs good tires and well-lubricated wheel bearings. Make sure the towing vehicle is large enough to safely pull and control the weight. Personal Flotation Devices Eighty-six percent of boating fatalities that drowned were not wearing PFDs. Over 400 lives could have been saved if PFDs were worn. All boats, including rowboats and canoes, must have Coast Guard-approved PFDs for everyone. All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition. That means no rips or tears, missing straps or broken buckles or zippers. If you squeeze the PFD and it is rock hard, it is bad and should be discarded. Anyone towed by a boat, which includes water skiing, tubing, parasailing and inflatable devices, must wear a PFD. All children under 12 are required to wear a PFD. In 2003, drowning was the cause of death for approximately 60 percent of the children (12 and under) in boating accidents. Boats 16 feet or longer must also have a cushion, ring, or horseshoe PFD on board that is readily accessible. Move your PFDs so they are easy to reach in an emergency. Let everyone know where they are. Basic Safety Regulations Just as there are basic safety rules that apply to cars, there are ones for boats. Never overload; capsizing and falling overboard are the most reported fatal-accident cause. Also, make sure passengers and gear are situated so the boat's weight is evenly distributed. In addition, passengers should be seated in a safe location. While underway, passengers should not ride on the bow, gunwale or in any dangerous position. Riding on the bow also restricts the boat operator's visibility. Failure to keep a proper lookout is another accident cause, as is careless and reckless operation. The maximum speed limit when boating within 100 feet of shore, a dock, pier, raft, float or an anchored or moored boat is 5 mph. All vessels must reduce speed when visibility is reduced. Operating at excessive speeds is another accident contributor. Never obstruct channels or interfere with other boats' travel. Avoid anchoring in heavily-traveled areas. Tying up to a buoy or other navigation aid is illegal. All boats towing a person (skier or tuber) must have an observer on board. The observer must be at least 10. Water skiing and related activities are prohibited at night. Boater inexperience is another cause of accidents. By law, youngsters 10-18 must have a boating safety certificate before operating a mechanically-propelled boat without adult supervision. All those operating PWCs are now required to have a safety certificate regardless of age. Booze and boats do not mix; not only is it dangerous, it is illegal. According to Leja, the four boating accidents reported in Cayuga County last year resulted from operators disobeying safety requirements. Navigation Rules In 2003, the most reported type of boat accident were collisions. All boaters must be familiar with the rules of the water to avoid them. Hand-propelled boats (row boats, canoes) have the right of way over powerboats and sailboats. Sailboats generally have the right of way over powerboats. However, sailboats using a motor are considered powerboats. Motorboats should stay away from non-powered craft and should not create a wake. Cross behind a non-powered boat so your wake is not thrown over their bow, possibly swamping them. When two boats coming from different directions meet, each should slow up and alter its course to stay clear. Boats can pass on either side of one another; to the starboard (right) or the port (left) side. If you meet head on, go to the starboard to pass. It is important each boater make their intentions known ahead of time by altering course in advance and not at the last minute. When overtaking or passing, stay clear. The boat being passed has the right of way if it maintains course and speed. In situations where two boats' paths cross, the boat to the right has the right of way. All boats should stay clear of large commercial vessels and any others with restricted maneuvering. Also, bring plenty of liquids and sunscreen. You can become dehydrated in the hot sun, so drink plenty of liquids. You can develop a serious sunburn, so use sunscreen and wear sunglasses. Th e Cayuga County sheriff's department will be condutcing boating safety courses on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, contact the department at 253-3935.

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