Recreational Boating Safety – National Safe Boating Week

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
Safe Boating Week is from May 18-24, 2024. The purpose of the Safe Boating Campaign is to promote boater education and safe operation so that all boaters get home safely. Getting home safely from a recreational boating outing is simply a matter of following some important good practices. Some of the good practices are required by law, some are recommendations from the Coast Guard, and some just make good practice. Although this is not a complete list, it is a good start to operating safely on the water.

Good Practices for Safe Boating
If you remember and follow these good practices for safe boating, you will have a pretty good chance of getting back home safely from a recreational boating outing:

  1. Life Jackets Save Lives – Wear a Life Jacket
  2. Safe Boats Save Lives – Obtain a Vessel Safety Check
  3. Knowledgeable Boaters Save Lives – Take a Boating Course
  4. Sober Boaters Save Lives – Never Boat Under the Influence

Wear a Life Jacket
Certain life jackets are designed to keep your head above water and help you remain in a position which permits proper breathing. To meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements, a boat must have a U.S. Coast Guard Approved life jacket for each person aboard. The important thing to remember about life jackets is you must be wearing them for them to work. Of deaths due to drowning in boating accidents, 91% of those who died were not wearing a life jacket.

For Personal Watercraft riders, the life jacket MUST be worn. An impact rating is recommended, but not required. If you wear an impact vest, it must be Coast Guard approved. Texas law requires all children under 13 years of age in all vessels under 26 feet in length to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket while underway. I am a big fan of self-inflating life jackets, but in order for one to meet Coast Guard requirements, it must be worn when underway. You must be 16 years old in order to wear a self-inflating type of life jacket.

Obtain a Vessel Safety Check
The best way to ensure that you have the safety items you need is to undergo a free Coast Guard Vessel Safety Check (VSC), but even if you haven’t done this, you can take advantage of the safety check by adding the required and recommended safety items to your own list. You may also access the Coast Guard app and select the “Review Safety Equipment” icon. It is much better, however, to have a Coast Guard Auxiliary Vessel Examiner perform a formal Vessel Safety Check with you. The Vessel Examiner will go over the items required by the Coast Guard, which include the following:

  1. Proper display of numbers
  2. Registration or documentation check
  3. Life jackets (one for each person on board, CG Approved)
  4. Visual distress signals (day and night, as required)
  5. Fire extinguishers
  6. Ventilation (inboard motors)
  7. Backfire flame control (inboard/outboard and inboard gas engines)
  8. Sound producing devices (whistle, horn, and bell if required)
  9. Navigation lights
  10. Pollution Placard (boats 26 feet and over)
  11. MARPOL Trash Placard (boats 26 feet and over)
  12. Marine Sanitation Device (required on boats with installed toilet)
  13. Navigation Rules (boats 39.4 feet and longer need current copy)
  14. State and Local Requirements must be met
  15. Overall vessel condition free of hazards

The Vessel Examiner will then go over recommended and discussion items to allow the boater to further increase their safe boating experience. These items include the following:

  1. Marine Radio (one of my top recommendations)
  2. Dewatering Device and Backup (bilge pump and manual bailing device)
  3. Mounted Fire Extinguishers (not required, but recommended)
  4. Anchor and Line for the Area (not required, but another of my top picks)
  5. First Aid Kit and Person in Water Kit (ring buoy with a line, for example)
  6. Accident Reporting Overview
  7. Offshore Operations
  8. Survival Tips
  9. Fuel Management (one third out, one third back, and one third for reserve)
  10. Float Plan (another of my top items for discussion)
  11. Insurance Considerations
  12. Boating Checklist
  13. Safe Boating Classes (even if you have had one years ago, take a refresher)
  14. Maritime Domain Awareness (an effective understanding of anything associated with the sea that could impact the security, safety, economy, or environment)

If your boat passes all the required items, you will be given a Vessel Safety Check decal to display on the port side of your boat.

Take a Safe Boating Course
In 75% of the reported recreational boating deaths in 2021 (495 out of 658 deaths), the last year for which we have statistics, the boat operator had not taken a nationally approved boater safety course. Texas has a mandatory education law for certain boaters born after August 31, 1993. This law requires boaters born after August 31, 1993, to complete a TPWD-approved course and be certified with the TPWD to operate:

  1. Any vessel over 15 horsepower
  2. Any windblown vessel over 14 feet
  3. All personal watercraft

A person less than 13 years of age may operate only if he or she is supervised by a person who:

  • Is 18 years of age or older and …
  • Can lawfully operate the watercraft and …
  • Is on board when the vessel is underway.

Boaters who are required to have a Boater Education Card must carry the card on board the vessel and have it available for inspection by a law enforcement officer. Not carrying your Boater Education Card when one is required can result in a fine. Boaters who are not required to have a boater education course can benefit from taking one. BoatUS has an online course that is approved by all states. There is a small fee for the course. Even if you have already taken the course, I recommend retaking it as a refresher.

Never Boat Under the Influence
Come on, now. This is a no-brainer. The boater safety course tells you that too. Operating a boat under the influence is against the law as well as being the leading contributing factor in boating deaths and injuries.

Self-Inflating Life Jacket Test
If you depend on a self-inflating life jacket like me, just prior to your first trip of the season you should manually blow the life jacket up using the manual inflator to test it for leaks. Don’t forget that the manual inflator is there in case the CO2 cartridge fails.

A note about boat charters: Boat operators who take passengers for hire must be licensed by the Coast Guard. The entry level license is the Six-Pack Captain’s license, officially known as the Operator of an Uninspected Passenger Vessel License. Captains with this license have to undergo extensive training and pass a Coast Guard licensing exam in order to receive this certification. They may take six paying passengers aboard, hence the name given the license. Many accidents involving deaths had unlicensed charter boat operators or had exceeded the number of paying passengers for which the captain was licensed. If you take a chartered trip, be sure to ensure that your captain aboard is licensed for the number of paying passengers on board.

Safe Boating Week is from May 18-24, 2024. During Safe Boating Week the US Coast Guard Auxiliary reminds boaters to boat responsibly. You can help improve your chances for a safe boating experience by (1) always wearing a life jacket when underway, (2) obtaining a Vessel Safety Check, (3) taking a boater education course, and (3) by never boating under the influence.

[BC: May-15-2024]

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