: Boating Safety BY JAMIE BULIAN
ILLUSTRATION BY HOLLI RAUSCH
ach year, lives are lost, bodies are injured and boats are totaled because of easily preventable boating accidents.
From 2006 to 2007, boat accidents rose from 4,967 to 5,191, and boating-related injuries rose from 3,473 to 3,673, according to the National Recreation Boating Safety Program. Though many people think simply suiting up in a life jacket before water skiing is precaution enough, statistics from recent years show that boating accidents not only occur more often than one might think, but that they also happen in various different ways. Colliding with vessels or fixed objects, falling overboard, capsizing, drowning, unruly weather, equipment failure, and skiing mishaps have all contributed to deaths or injuries on the waterways. However,
alcohol is by far the leading contributor in fatal boating accidents and the leading factor in 21 percent of deaths. Though it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol, drivers are still choosing to participate in drinking on the water. But just like when drivers are on land, alcohol affects their judgment, vision, balance, and coordination, which increases the likelihood of accidents for both passengers and boat operators. In fact, alcohol may be even more dangerous when used on the water because boat operators are less experienced on the water than drivers are on the highway. Simply put, recreational boaters don’t experience daily boat operation, so they are less confident and knowledgeable about how to navigate through their surroundings. Think that’s all there is to know about the dangers of boating under the influence? Not even close.
Since the marine environment is filled with motion, vibrations, sun, wind, and noise, it tends to speed up a drinker’s impairment. What’s more, alcohol creates a sensation of warmth, which may stop someone in cold water from getting out before hypothermia sets in. Although some people think that alcohol and boating go hand in hand and can’t imagine a day in the sun without a six-pack of Coronas in the cooler, there are ways to still have fun on the water without turning the day into a tragedy. For instance, take along a variety of nonalcoholic drinks, like soda, tea or lemonade and plenty of snack foods. This way, you can still eat, drink and socialize without the impairment and dangers that alcohol can bring. Another way to avoid alcohol on the water is to participate in fishing and other water sports. When you’re skiing, tubing, wake boarding or casting out a line, there is barely time to think about guzzling down a beer. However, if you must drink alcohol as part of your day out, plan to do it ashore at the dock, in a picnic area or in your backyard. While alcohol is a leading contributor to boating accidents, there are several other factors that can turn a fun day in the sun into a heartbreak of a lifetime. Though boaters might think that simply packing enough life-jackets for everyone on board is good enough to keep them safe on the water, they are wrong. Life jackets are only effective when they are actually worn. If a jacket is simply stored, you will probably not be able to get it fast enough when you need it. That, and it’s doubtful that many people are able to hook and fasten a life-jacket in the water.