Synopsis: Hundreds of people die each year in boating accidents – and many of those can be prevented if the right equipment is on board and boating safety procedures are followed. We talk to two Coast Guard specialists about what you need to know and have on hand in your boat to make this summer’s boating safe and fun.
Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Lt. Andrew Perodeau, U.S. Coast Guard 9th District Office of Law Enforcement, Great Lakes Hdqts., Cleveland, OH; Mike Baron, Recreational and Water Safety Program Mgr. U.S. Coast Guard 9th District in Cleveland, OH.
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Summer Boating Safety
Marty Peterson: Anyone who has a boat or jet ski – or who has a friend with one – can’t wait to get out on the water during the summer. There’s something about navigating along rivers and in lakes that makes us feel free and relaxed, and helps us forget all of the trials and tribulations of the workweek. Being too quick to get the boat onto the water, or just daydreaming while you’re in it, can lead to trouble, though. Safety is number one when it comes to boating but, unfortunately, many people forget about that aspect of the activity and it ends in tragedy.
Lt. Andrew Perodeau: We had 610 boaters die in 2014 nationwide. 84% of them were not wearing a life jacket so I can’t emphasize enough how important life jacket wear is.
Peterson: That’s Lieutenant Andrew Perodeau from the U-S Coast Guard’s 9th District Office of Law Enforcement, Great Lakes Headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. He and Michael Baron, Recreational and Water Safety Program Manager for the 9th District, spoke to us about what every boater needs to know and do before and during their time out on the water this season. Baron says that before you even set sail, you should have a safety check on your vessel to make sure it’s seaworthy.
Michael Baron: The first part of the year where we would respond to a lot of vessels that were taking on water, when we’d get alongside and, you know, step something off the water, you find out that they had simply forgotten to put in the boat plug to prevent the water from getting in. Prior to getting underway for the first time, boaters should be going through the boat and checking things like their batteries and their battery connection, making sure that all the terminals are clean and tight and that the connection’s are good. You’re looking for frayed wires and things like that. You want to check – depending on how the boat is designed whether it’s an inboard engine or not – all the detox handles and the hoses, and things like the ventilation systems. Because the build up of gas vapors in an engine space is a disaster waiting to happen.
Peterson: Baron says that the bilge pump, navigation lights and other electrical connections should also be thoroughly checked to make sure there are no worn parts or loose connections. After the pre-launch maintenance has been checked, it’s time to look at the safety equipment that needs to be on board.
Baron: So if we’re looking strictly at the required safety equipment, each boat is going to be required to have a life jacket of the correct size and type for everybody that’s on board the boat. So, number one is life jacket. Also, they’re going to be required to have a throwable life jacket, which is if somebody should find themselves in the water that the people that are on the boat will have something that they can throw to the individual in the water so that they can safely retrieve them. Other items that they are going to be required to have, again, depending on the size and type of the boat, they are going to be required to have fire extinguishers and then you get into some of the other things like signaling devices. Vessels – depending on where they’re operating – are going to be required to have visual distress signals, so pyrotechnic flares or there are some non-pyrotechnic devices out there, such as the orange flag that they would display to signal that they were in distress. They’re also going to be required to have some sort of sound producing device so they can comply with the navigational rule.
Peterson: Once you are in the water, Baron says that you need to follow the rules of navigation and use some common sense.
Baron: Everybody needs to be aware of their surroundings and the other vessels in the area. Looking at the statistics – and I looked at the latest statistics for 2014 that just came out – and the number one accident-type, if you will, is collision with a wreck vessel. The number one cause of these collisions is operation inattention; the boater is not paying any attention to their surroundings. So it’s a huge responsibility to operators. Everybody gets out there and they’re all trying to have a good time, but yet, they’re all trying to share the waterways – not only with other recreational boaters, but also with the commercial vessels in the Great Lakes that are carrying passengers and the whole bit.
Peterson: Baron says that there is a hierarchy of boats that determines who has the right-of-way in certain situations, and boaters with any type of craft need to understand and follow the rules to avoid accidents. Perhaps the most important piece of safety equipment is the life jacket. Baron says that there are different types of jackets and you need to know which one is best for your activity.
Baron: What a boater needs to do or anyone that’s considering taking to the water, look at a life jacket. They’ve got to read the label on the life jacket because it’s going to tell you what that life jacket can be used for. The life jacket that you would wear on a jet ski or a personal watercraft is going to be one that’s going to be designed differently than one you would wear on your 21-foot open motorboat. It needs to be U.S. Coast Guard approved, which means that it’s been built to a standard and that it’s going to do the job that it was designed for, so it will tell you on the label what it was designed to be used for.
Peterson: If it’s designed for a jet-ski operator or water skier, it should be a high impact model because in those activities you can hit the water pretty hard. There are others designed for people who boat in remote areas where help might be slow in coming; and still others that are low profile, auto-inflatable for people who want a smaller, lighter vest to wear for recreational fishing or pleasure cruising. As we noted at the top of the story, though, many people don’t wear life jackets and end up drowning when they fall out of a boat. Lieutenant Perodeau says that if you can’t swim, always wear a vest. But if you find yourself in the water, don’t panic.
Perodeau: The life vest will do the work. It has a lot of inherent buoyancy to it and it’ll keep your head and your body above water, so the best thing you can do is not swim too much and conserve your energy.
Peterson: What should you do if you go overboard and you’re not a good swimmer and you’re not wearing a life jacket?
Perodeau: You’re probably in a very bad place. Again, try to stay with the vessels as best as you can, and if you can get a hand onto the boat and hold it or if you can crawl on top of the vessel, that’s the best thing to do. If you can’t swim, your best option is to yell loudly and hope that there’s any boaters nearby that come to your assistance. If you are a nearby boater and you see someone fall into the water, please render assistance immediately. Every boat should have what’s called a throwable life preserver on board. They usually look like a cushion you would sit on, but they’ve got handles so the person in a nearby boat, anyone should be able to throw you something that floats. If you’re out by yourself, then you’ve really got no help at that point.
Peterson: If you do want to help someone who has fallen in, what’s the best way to do it?
Perodeau: You can jump in and help someone, but that’s always the least preferred method. The ideal way to render assistance would be to come alongside in your boat and reach an object down to the person that they can grab onto. The next favored method would be to throw something to them that they can grab and float, and pull them to the boat. And finally, if nothing else worked, would be to get into the water and affect rescue, but only if you know what you’re doing and are trained to do so.
Peterson: In a large body of water, such as the ocean or the Great Lakes, storms can come up quickly. Perodeau says that the best way to avoid these is to prepare well ahead of time.
Perodeau: Before you go out, you should always be checking the weather. There is what is called microstorms that occur in the Great Lakes that can pop up with relatively little notice and create a pretty good amount of wave strength. My experience on the water is that you can usually see them a ways out. If you see one, head in the opposite direction, head towards land, head towards other groups of boaters, anyone else who would be able to render assistance if things go poorly. You should have a radio on the vessel. If you have a radio and you get yourself into trouble, you can call on Channel 16 and ask for help, and the Coast Guard always monitors Channel 16.
Peterson: So what happens when you call Channel 16? Perodeau says it can set off a chain of events all designed to help a boater in distress.
Perodeau: So if you call Channel 16 and report yourself in distress, the Coast Guard immediately notifies the nearest small boat station and the nearest air station. That’s done through a command center. We have four of them in the Great Lakes, but there are a multitude throughout. They sort of command and control all of the search and rescue response. They may call civilian mariners. They’ll put out an emergency broadcast on Channel 21 and they’ll let all other mariners in the area know that there’s a reported distress, so if that anyone is nearby they should render assistance. They’ll let commercial salvage know – BoatUS or Sea Tow – so if they can provide any assistance, and then they’ll start generally watching Coast Guard boats and Coast Guard helicopters.
Peterson: One activity that can lead to boating tragedy is drinking onboard by the operator of the vessel. Perodeau says that there are strict rules governing alcohol on a boat, and those who fail to follow them are in for trouble.
Perodeau: Drinking and boating seems to be a culture in the United States, and the Coast Guard certainly isn’t for that culture, but the law says that the operator of the vessel – a person driving – cannot be intoxicated. Just like driving a car. All of the states in the Great Lakes right now have a .08 blood alcohol content rule that you can’t operate a vessel above that. So just like you could get stopped in a car, the Coast Guard can come alongside you and give you a breathalyzer test and determine that you are drunk, and they can criminally and civilly punish you for that. Other passengers can drink though. We certainly recommend moderation when using alcohol – understanding that being out in the open air for multiple hours at a time under the sun, alcohol will affect you much faster than it does normally.
Peterson: Perodeau says that 21 percent of the boating fatalities across the U-S involve alcohol, and the Coast Guard takes drinking and boating very seriously. For all of the information on boating safety, equipment and drinking and boating, Lieutenant Andrew Perodeau and Mike Baron say you can log onto the Coast Guard website at USCGboating.org. There’s also a new mobile app for boaters that’s available for both Apple and Android phones and tablets. According to their website, the app features local boating information; a safety equipment checklist; emergency assistance button; navigation rules; float plans; and calling features to report pollution or suspicious activity; as well as location services with local weather reports and locations of water hazards. For information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpoints online.net. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.