Boating Safety

Posted on Friday 29 June 2012

With the upcoming holiday, I would ask that people who are going to be out on the water take extra care. The major holidays are often times where serious accidents, which could be mostly avoidable with a little care and foresight, happen.

I would highly recommend that everyone who spends time on the water boating, whether it is a power boat or sailboat, take a boating safety course at the United States Power Squadrons, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary or someplace similar. Many people, even long time boaters, don’t know the basic safety procedures, rules and precautions.

However, that is probably more true of powerboaters than sailors. Most sailors learned to sail from other sailors, so there is some mentoring and education of the rules and etiquette of the sea passed along, if only by osmosis in some cases. There is also a fair bit of learning required if one expects to go anywhere in a sailboat.

This is often not the case with powerboaters, many of whom have never boated previously and have no idea of what the rules and etiquette of the sea might be. They think that they can do whatever they want and point the boat and hit the throttle. Many do not understand that even though there are no lines on the road, there are rules of the “road” in boating.

One younger boater that kept his boat at my marina had far more money than sense. He drove a Ferrari and it was pretty clear that he had inherited the money rather than made it. His boat was a “go-fast” cigarette type boat and had 1500 HP or so. One day he asked me if he left the harbor and just kept going right (west) if that was the way to get to Newport.

I asked him if he any charts aboard his boat. He asked me what charts were and why they were important. I explained to him that they were like road maps for boats, but a bit harder to read, since there weren’t any streets. He didn’t have the basic safety gear aboard the boat either. I told him that if he didn’t have them and didn’t know how to read them, he really had no business leaving the harbor.

He bought a GPS chartplotter but no paper charts as far as I know. He was young enough that he was of the “Nintendo” generation and thought of the GPS as a video game in many ways I think. He finally sold the boat after blowing both engines in it coming back from Menemsha. According to his girlfriend, they went airborne for a “good long while” and he hadn’t throttled down on the engines when the boat left the water and he burned out one engine completely and pretty seriously damaged the other….and was lucky to limp back to the marina on it.

I’m actually pretty happy that he blew the engines on his boat. It forced him to sell the boat before he got himself or his girlfriend or her friends killed. I really didn’t want to see them become Coast Guard statistics.

Another major difference between power boats and sailboats is speed. A jetski can top 20 knots as can many small powerboats. Most sailboats are lucky to be making 6 knots. Even a small jetski, weighing 500 lbs., becomes a huge hazard if it is doing 25 knots and the operator doesn’t understand how it work. A 25′ sailboat doing 5 knots and displacing 2000 lbs. has only about one-sixth the kinetic energy and is far easier to avoid.

Alcohol is going to be a huge factor and is a cause of the majority of fatal boating accidents. If you are responsible for the boat, I would recommend you not drink at all. If an emergency comes up, like a dragging anchor, there is no way for you to quickly get sober and deal with the situation safely. Alcohol not only increases your risk of dehydrating, it also impairs night vision, balance, judgement and hand-eye coordination. It increases the risk of falling overboard. Please have your crew and guests drink responsibly.

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