WALNUT CREEK, Calif .– As the coronavirus pandemic continues in Walnut Creek, many here and other parts of the United States hope to end a long winter and spring by spending Memorial Day weekend on the water in their newly purchased boats.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States first became boat owners during the pandemic, the Water Sports Foundation recently said in a press release. Many will likely touch Lake Merritt or San Francisco Bay in the coming days.
Additionally, it is because of the surge in new boat owners that the Water Sports Foundation and other organizations are taking extra steps to ensure safety is a priority this year.
About 70 percent of boat deaths occurred on boats on which the operator had no safety instructions, according to 2019 US Coast Guard statistics. Operator inattention, improper supervision, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol consumption are the top five contributing factors to accidents.
Before heading out on the boat this Memorial Day weekend, here are some smart safety tips from the Water Sports Foundation to help you and your family stay safe on the water:
1. Take a boating safety education course.
Before you launch your boat, make sure you are confident and comfortable at the helm, says the foundation.
There are many live, virtual and hybrid boating safety training courses available through the United States Coast Guard and a number of private boating training providers. For a list of educational resources, see the National Boating Safety Media Resource Center.
2. Wear a life jacket.
Drowning is responsible for 79% of fatal boating accidents where the cause of death was known, according to the Water Sports Foundation. About 86% of these victims were not wearing life jackets.
Make sure you have life jackets for all passengers on board and that they are sized to fit.
3. Don’t drive or drink.
This one should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Alcohol consumption is the main known factor in fatal boating accidents, according to US Coast Guard data. Avoid alcohol or, at the very least, appoint a “Sober Skipper”.
4. Invest in an emergency engine stop switch.
As of April 1, 2021, federal law has been passed that requires the use of an engine cut-off switch, or ECOS, a safety device on board that is connected to the boat’s captain. If the pilot falls from the boat, the ECOS will immediately shut down the boat engine. Learn more about the device at $ 20.
5. Drop a floating plane.
Before leaving the dock, tell friends, family or marina staff the names of all passengers on board, including contact details for cell phone numbers. Be sure to include a planned route with your destination, stops along the route, and your estimated return time.
6. Watch the weather.
Know the forecast before you go. Make sure you download a weather app on your phone and keep an eye on it regularly. If the weather gets tough, don’t stay on the water – find shelter as soon as possible.
7. Communicate with passengers.
Should everyone remain seated while the boat is moving? Tell your passengers before you leave the dock. Should everyone wear a life jacket? Communicate it too. Set expectations and clarify the rules before starting the boat engine.
8. Observe capacity limits.
If your boat can only accommodate six passengers, do not invite a seventh. If it has a weight limit, be sure to factor in coolers, equipment, water toys, and other merchandise. If you overload your boat, you increase the risk of capsizing.
9. Pay attention to your surroundings.
Just like when you are driving on the freeway, you need to keep an eye out for other boaters at all times.
10. Choose destinations wisely.
If you’re new to boating, you might want to avoid setting sail on one of the busiest boating weekends of the year. However, if you insist on spending Memorial Day weekend on the water, head to the less crowded areas and avoid popular beaches and crowded places.
11. Obey posted speed limits and no-wake zones.
These are implemented for the sake of safety. Ignoring them is also a quick way to incur a fine.
12. Be especially careful when cruising at night.
Night sailing can add additional danger to your holiday festivities. If you plan to be on the water after the sun goes down, make sure all of your navigation and race lights are on. Again, avoid drinking alcohol – this can further impair your senses and visibility.