Tips for browsing safely during the 4th of July weekend

JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – The July 4 holiday weekend means additional boaters will be hitting the lakes, rivers and beaches of Northeast Florida to cool off. Law enforcement will also be patrolling to make sure everyone is protected and follows the law.

After soaking up the sun during the day and catching fireworks at night, there are plenty of reasons to take the plunge. However, experts said too many boats on the water are forcing boaters to be extra careful to avoid any mishaps.

Boating is a great hobby, but it comes with its risks. Two Jacksonville-area women have died in crashes in the past two weeks.

On June 15, a woman was killed after a boat she was on crashed into a dock in Black Creek. On Tuesday, another woman died after falling from a motor canoe. Both are still under investigation.

A d

Lisa Almeida, owner of the Freedom Boat Club of Jacksonville and St. Augustine, took out News4JAX to show how she protects herself and her passengers.

“First and foremost a sober skipper – the most important thing,” she said. “If you’re going to drink, you have to have someone drive for you.”

Make sure there is at least one life jacket for each person on the boat as well as water and snacks if you break down.

“Everyone should have a first aid kit and just a few small tools to make sure you’re safe,” she said, showing water-resistant cases she keeps under her seats.

Also, she said to be aware of your surroundings and designate a mate to watch for hazards you might not see.

“I have people doing it with me all the time,” she noted. “My nephew was on the boat last weekend with me and he was like, ‘Hey, see that?’ and I say, “Hey, I got it, thanks,” and I say I’ll never get mad or mad at someone who tells me there’s something going on around me. It can never hurt to have a second pair of eyes.

A d

Lisa Almeida has never known anything other than boating.

“Since I was six weeks actually,” she recalls. “My parents were competitive water skiers. My mom said ‘Hey, we couldn’t stop practicing since you were born’, and in the boat I went.

The Water Sports Foundation estimates there will be around 850,000 first-time boaters this July 4.

The nonprofit shared these tips for maximizing boating fun and safety this July 4 weekend and beyond:

Important Basics: Plan Ahead and Be Prepared

  • Before launching the boat, perform a thorough inspection of the boat and trailer. The local Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron can offer free ship safety checks.

  • Perform a pre-departure check to ensure that all required safety equipment is on board and operational.

  • Make sure U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets are available for each passenger’s weight and size, especially young ones. Life jackets save lives!

  • Check current weather conditions and forecast and plan accordingly.

  • NEVER overload your boat. Check the vessel’s capacity plate and follow all weight mandates.

  • For boats 26′ or less, comply with new federal law requiring boat operators to wear and engage the Emergency Stop Switch (ECOS). This safety lanyard shuts off the engine if the operator falls overboard.

  • Make sure you have the correct number of fire extinguishers on board and that they are fully charged and easily accessible. Check the expiration date to make sure they meet the new federal requirements.

  • Make sure VHF radios, phones and EPIRB transponders are working. Consider carrying a cell phone battery charger as a backup.

  • Pack sunscreen, first aid kit, basic tool kit, and extra food and water.

Drop a floating plan

  • Create a simple, written plan that includes the names and contact details of everyone on board the boat, as well as intended destinations, expected departure and return times.

  • Leave the plan on file with marina staff and/or responsible emergency contacts.

Communications with the crew before departure

  • An important and often overlooked boater safety strategy: The captain should always review boating safety protocols and practices with crew and passengers before departure, especially when new boaters are on board.

  • This may include instructions for passengers to remain seated while the boat is underway; keep arms and legs inside the vessel; wear life jackets; and to review pre-appointed assignments such as designated spotters during boating activities, etc.

Always designate a sober skipper

  • Don’t drink and drive a boat. Browsing under the influence is the leading cause of boating-related deaths in the United States.

  • Designate someone who agrees to avoid impairment and who will be responsible for operating the boat and getting everyone back to the dock safely

  • Passengers should also minimize alcohol consumption which can impair activity and judgement.

  • In addition to protecting family and friends from the effects and consequences of alcohol consumption, maritime law enforcement will intensively patrol waterways and issue costly citations to those who operate vessels under the influence.

Raft tips for large gatherings of boats

  • New boaters should avoid cruising the major boating hotspots until you have gained more experience.

  • If you plan to go rafting with other boating friends, meet ahead of time to discuss pre-departure strategies so everyone knows the game plan.

  • Choose your location carefully. Remember, if you’re placed in the center of the action, don’t expect a quick or easy getaway.

  • When approaching the destination, slow down to idle.

  • Designated spotters should be hired to watch for anchored and moving boats in your path as well as swimmers, paddlers and tubers in the area. Approach carefully.

  • Once you have chosen your location, the largest boat in the fleet should anchor first with appropriate lengths of line, as well as extended fenders on both sides.

  • As the raft climb ensues, consider using a boat hook to help secure the boats together. Once hooked up, the captain is free to shut off the engine, cast mooring lines and hook up.

  • Where possible, attach at least two mooring lines to each boat’s cleats, preferably at the bow or amidships, and one at the stern.

  • The same slow, deliberate approach should be taken initially.

Night movements and fireworks

  • Novice boaters should avoid boating after sunset, especially considering the large crowds expected for parties and fireworks. Experienced boaters should also take extra precautions when operating at night.

  • Know and follow approved anchor locations issued by local marine authorities. Plot your route in advance, including the positions of navigation markers which can be difficult to see at night. Where possible, deploy GPS electronics to aid in navigation.

  • Check in advance that your boat’s running and anchor lights are working. For added safety, bring a searchlight and flares.

  • Give yourself enough time to reach and/or return to your target destination. Due to reduced visibility, travel at slower speeds.

  • Be patient and expect delays at busy marinas, boat ramps and docks.

  • Keep your boat well away from the fireworks barge, as well as other boaters.

  • NEVER light fireworks of any type, including sparklers from your boat. Gas fumes from the boat’s engine could easily ignite.

  • Report illegal fireworks activity.

Paddle Safety

  • Paddlers should always wear a life jacket. Three quarters of people who died while paddling in 2019 were not wearing one. Don’t be a statistic, buckle up.

  • Dress for the weather and water temperature.

  • Know and follow local navigation rules.

  • The paddle steamers are small, so avoid large boats and crowds. See and be seen. Wear light-colored clothing and keep a whistle handy (pro tip: attach it to your life jacket).

  • Choose your location carefully. Make sure your skills, experience and occupation match the waterway you choose.

  • Practice getting into your kayak, canoe or paddle board from the water.

  • Do not drink alcohol and paddle.

  • Share your float plan (see number 2 above).

Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX – All Rights Reserved.

About Patricia Kilgore

Check Also

Fast, Reliable: Coast Guard Presence at Beach Haven Keeps Boaters Safe

ASSIGNMENT: Coast Guard Boatswain Melissa Hiatt pilots a weekend crew through Liberty Thorofare off Beach …