Recreational water activities on our area’s beautiful lakes and rivers are a great way to enjoy the summer weather with friends and family. With temperatures rising and the long daylight hours, getting out on a lake in a boat can provide hours of much deserved relaxation and fun. When planning an taking part in these activities, it is sometimes too easy to forget the safety issues inherent with boating.
In 2009, according to Coast Guard statistics, there were 4,730 boating accidents that resulted in 736 deaths and 3,358 injuries. Almost 75% of the total number of fatalities occurred as a result of drowning and the vast majority of those victims—84%—were not wearing a life jacket. Of these accidents, 46% occurred on open motor boats, 22% involved personal watercraft like jet skis, and 14% involved motorboats with cabins. The numbers also show that boating safety education can have a big impact on the likelihood of an accident: only 14% of the total deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received that type of instruction.
These statistics underscore the need to practice safety when out on the water this summer. Some of the most important safety precautions that you can take include the following:
- Always wear a properly fitted life jacket. Life jackets are the best preventive measure to prevent drowning and should be worn by everyone on the watercraft at all times.
- Never mix alcohol with boating. Alcohol is a contributing factor in nearly a fifth of all boating fatalities. For boaters, alcohol mixed with the glare of the sun and the action of the waves can be a deadly combination as fatigue and delayed reactions set in.
- Take a boat or jet-ski safety course to learn the regulatory and statutory rules for the safe operation and navigation of your vessel. Many states—including Alabama—actually require operators of boats to take such a course and have an operator’s license.
- Drive defensively. Be vigilant to what other boaters on the water are doing, particularly smaller vessels such as personal water craft. Even if you have the right of way, yield to other boats if they don’t yield to you.
- Check your boat and your safety equipment before heading out. Always inspect the fluid levels, the motor, and the rest of your boat’s equipment. Take an inventory of the on-board safety equipment and make sure that it is in good working order.
- Watch the weather. Being out on the water when a storm moves in can be dangerous as winds pick up and the water movement starts to change. The best thing to do is get off the water.
If you or your loved ones are going to be spending time out on the water this season, take some time to educate yourself about boating safety and the regulations that you need to follow when boating in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is a great resource for learning more and keeping yourself safe on the water.