Boating and canoeing safety tips from the Coast Guard

From U.S. Coast Guard brochures

Nothing beats boating as a way to relax, have fun, enjoy the water, and bring friends and family together. That’s why it’s so tragic when a recreational boating outing — hunting, angling, paddling, or just cruising — ends with an accident.

On average, two boaters are killed every day on America’s waterways — more than 700 per year. Thousands of others are injured. Waterways are second only to highways as the scene of accidental deaths. Too often these accidents happen when otherwise responsible, conscientious people make the serious mistake of assuming that their experience or equipment is enough to keep them and their passengers safe. As a boat owner or operator, you are responsible for your safety, the safety of your passengers, and other boaters.

Always wear your life jacket

Accidents can happen without warning. There’s rarely time to reach stowed life jackets. It is estimated that approximately 86 percent of the recreational boaters that drowned were not wearing their life jackets. Approximately 416 lives could have been saved if boaters had worn their life jackets. Boaters should always wear a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when on the water. The latest life jackets come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes — even inflatable models. So there’s no excuse not to wear one while boating!

Never boat under the influence

The sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion common to the marine environment intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and even some prescription medications. These “stressors” can cause fatigue and dramatically affect judgment, balance, coordination and reaction time. Approximately one-third of fatal boating accidents involve Boating Under the Influence (BUI).

The U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement officials enforce state and federal Boating Under the Influence laws. Penalties can include possible monetary fines and/or imprisonment. Marine stressors can intensify the adverse side effects of medications for blood pressure and other conditions. Check with your physician for additional information.

Take a boating safety course

Approximately 80 percent of all boating fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had never taken a boating safety course. Many basic boating courses are available. Volunteer organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons, as well as your own state boating agency, provide nationally recognized classes.

Too busy to attend a traditional classroom-based course? You can now study at your own pace with courses available online or in interactive format. Many take less than eight hours to complete. All boat owners, operators and passengers should take a boating safety course.

Get a vessel safety check

The Vessel Safety Check (VSC) is a free stem-to-stern inspection of your boat by a qualified member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or United States Power Squadrons. It’s your best way to learn about potential problems that might put you in violation of state or federal laws — or worse — create possible danger for you or your passengers on the water. Maintain your boat year-round, and get a free Vessel Safety Check every year.

Carbon monoxide can harm you

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. Prolonged exposure to low concentrations or very short exposure to high concentrations can kill you. Sources on your boat may include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, space and water heaters. Early symptoms of CO poisoning include irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. They are often confused with seasickness or intoxication, so those affected may not receive the medical attention they need.

CO can accumulate anywhere in or around your boat — including on back decks, swim platforms, or in the water around generator exhausts. CO can remain in or around your boat at dangerous levels even if your engine or another boat’s engine is no longer running!

How can you protect others and yourself?

Know where and how CO may accumulate in and around your boat.

If you can smell engine exhaust, you are inhaling CO.

Follow all warnings and instructions for canvas, engine operation, etc.

Maintain fresh air circulation throughout the boat at all times, even when the air conditioning is on.

Know where your engine and generator exhaust outlets are located and keep everyone away from these areas.

Stay off the back deck and the swim platform while the engines are running.

Never enter areas under swim platforms, where exhaust outlets are located, unless the area has been properly ventilated.

Although CO can be present without the smell of exhaust fumes, if exhaust fumes are detected on the boat, take immediate action to ventilate these fumes.

Treat symptoms of seasickness as possible CO poisoning, unless you’re sure it’s not CO.

Install and maintain marine grade approved CO detectors.

Changing course and speed to place boat heading into the wind can improve ventilation.

Maintain your engine in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations. Engines that are not tuned properly produce more CO.

Get a Vessel Safety Check.

Equipment you must have aboard:

• Life Jackets — (less than 16 feet): One Type-I, II, III or Type-V wearable for each person. All Type-Vs are wearables. (greater than 16 feet): One Type-I, II, III or Type-V for each person on board or being towed on water skis, etc. plus one Type-IV immediately available to be thrown.

• Fire Extinguishers — At least one B-1 U.S. Coast Guard-approved marine type hand-held portable fire extinguisher.

• Ventilation — At least two ventilator ducts fitted with cowls for the purpose of properly and efficiently ventilating the bilges of every inboard engine and fuel tank compartment of boats constructed or decked over after April 25, 1940, using gasoline or other fuel having a flashpoint less than 110 degrees. Boats built after July 31, 1980 must have operable power blowers.

• Sound-producing devices — Any device capable of making an “efficient sound signal” audible for a half-mile (whistle or horn).

• Backfire Flame Arrester — One U.S. Coast Guard, SAE or UL-approved device on each carburetor of all gasoline engines installed after April 25, 1940, except outboard moors.

Visual Distress Signals for coastal water, Great Lakes or high seas – (less than 16 feet): Required only when operating in waters beyond the point where the opening to the sea is greater than 2 miles wide. (greater than 16 feet): Acceptable VDS combinations: Orange flag with black square-and ball (D); and an auto S-O-S electric light (N); or 3 orange smoke signals, hand-held or floating (D); or 3 flares of hand-held, meteor or parachute type (D/N).

10 ways to paddle safely:

1. Always wear your life jacket. Wear a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times on the water.

2. Don’t drink while paddling. Avoid alcohol, which impairs the coordination and balance you need to control a canoe, kayak or raft.

3. Stay low. Learn how to enter and exit your boat safely and stay low in your boat when possible. Most paddlesport-related drownings are the result of capsizing.

4. Keep your balance. Don’t overload your boat. Distribute passengers, secure gear evenly and low, and leave your dog on land.

5. Practice the wet exit. Learn how to get out of, hang on to, right and re-enter your capsized boat.

6. Don’t get left in the cold. Dress for the weather conditions and be prepared for cold-water immersion. Hypothermia is a danger any time of year.

7. Plan ahead. Know the water you’re paddling, plan your day of paddling, and file a “float plan” so that someone knows where to find you and when you plan to return.

8. Never paddle alone. Companions can come to your aid if you get in trouble. New paddlers should paddle with someone more experienced — it’s a great way to learn and remain safe if there’s a mishap.

9. Be in command. Know how to move your boat forward, back and sideways, and how to stop using paddle strokes. Watch ahead for hazards like undercut rocks, bridge pilings, large branches and trees, big drop-offs, or other boats.

10. Learn about your boat. Consider taking a canoe or kayak safety class. Call 1-800-929-5162 or visit to learn about classes offered by the American Canoe Association.

From the July 30-Aug. 5, 2014, issue

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