Reporting Jay Lloyd
Many of us will take to the water this summer for a boating adventure, either as a guest on a friend’s boat or aboard our own. You’d think it kind of silly to remind boat owners about basic safety and the wisdom of bringing the whole crew back alive and in good spirits, but sometimes, circumstances intervene. And when bad things happen on the water, they happen fast. So here’s a few basic (and some not so basic) tips for boating safety. – Jay Lloyd
THE SOB STORY
When the weather forecast is a drumbeat of ominous warnings about wind and waves, but all of the guests have arrived for a day of fishing and cruising and have let it be known they don’t want to be disappointed. At this time, the skipper faces a decision. In some cases, he may decide to “take a chance,” but that’s a bad move. In fact, a recent capsizing involving such a scenario on the Chesapeake Bay left two dead. The good news is that two survived, and they survived because they were wearing…
There she was, Suzy Who, no more than two. I spotted her about the same time a marine patrol officer did, in Cape May Harbor. She was on a cramped 18-foot open fishing boat, and she was not wearing a life jacket. Grandpa was at the helm, and he was surprised to be pulled over and ticketed. But most boating states have life jacket laws for children. In New Jersey, kids 12 and under must wear them on moving boats, unless they are in an enclosed cabin. Delaware is the same. In Pennsylvania, the age is 12 on boats 20 feet or less. Maryland requires them for youngsters 13 and under on recreational boats 21 feet and less. If you’re going to any other state, check the requirements.
Let’s hope Suzie makes three, and that her folks stop rolling the dice with Davey Jones. Then there’s the other matter…
Sure, Cousin Joe wants to go fishing or out for a spin, but you already have a full boat. You can physically shoe horn him in, but it could be costly. Overloading a boat can lead to capsizing. A savvy guest should be aware of the danger, even if the skipper agrees to take on the extra load. It’s time to walk away before you have to swim away. Oh, you can swim, can’t you? Maybe just go and get a…
BEER AND OTHER INTOXICANTS
On a hot day, there’s always the rush of boating and a beer — what more could a guy want? On most of the boats I’ve sailed, the rule is simple: No drinking while underway. Moored or dockside, it’s okay, but not while the boat is moving. The effects of alcohol are enhanced on the water, and drinking and boating add up to trouble. ‘Nuff said.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Inboard gasoline engine boats can go boom if gas fumes build in the bilge. I’ve seen three blow up: at Tinicum Island, at the Jersey shore and on the Chesapeake off Rock Hall. It’s more common than you think. Boats should be equipped with a blower. Use it.
Carry one or more fire extinguishers.
Carry an air horn or other sound making device to warn other boats of an imminent problem.
Carry a flare gun to signal for help, especially at night.
Carry a VHF radio, and on cruising boats, have a unit in the cockpit, not just below. Cell phones are fine to call the Coast Guard, but other boats in the vicinity can’t hear the call. In emergencies, they could provide valuable assistance.
Carry a first aid kit to handle cuts, pain and even broken bones until you can get to shore or help can reach you.
Have up-to-date charts and consult them for hazards as well as for navigating.
Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you and the boat don’t show, the Coast Guard has a starting place for a search.
Finally, check your fuel before you go and again while underway. You’d be surprised to learn how many skippers get caught up in the fun of fishing and simply run out of fuel, exposing the boat and passengers to the danger of foul weather or being stranded in a shipping lane like a sitting duck.
Enjoy your (safe) trip!
KYW’s Jay Lloyd is a Coast Guard veteran and lifelong sailor.