National Safe Boating week ended on May 25th. If you are reading this article it means you lived through it. In 2011, according to the USCG, there were 4588 accidents and 758 deaths. The Coast Guard and most boating organization stress the importance of wearing a PFD, and for good reason. Seventy percent of the 2011 deaths were due to drowning. So while this is good advice it’s better if you never find yourself in the water. You’ll notice in the picture below the driver is wearing a PFD.
Operator inattention and improper lookout are the top causes of accidents, as the operator in the picture above is demonstrating. To me they are one in the same. Third place is inexperience. While it’s important to take a safe boating course, such as those offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the US Power Squadron, they don’t teach you how to operate your boat. Unfortunately a safe boating course and a check book are all you need to buy a boat and head out to sea.
The subject of licenses to operate a boat pops up from time to time. Some manufacturers and boating organizations are against licenses as it might reduce boat sales. I’m against it because I don’t think it will help. Half the automobile drivers can’t drive worth a damn and they have a license. Hands-on education is the answer. Yacht builders and brokers should not deliver a boat before spending at least a few hours out on the water with the new owner.
There are Captains available wherever you live who can give you hands-on instruction. And just like driving a car, do not try and teach your wife. I’m a licensed Captain, but I’m not stupid. I hired a lady Captain to teach my wife how to operate and dock our boat. I still haven’t figured out how she did it without yelling.
Even if you know everything like me, when you go boating someone else aboard should know some basics, such as shutting down the engines and operating the VHF radio to call for help when you pass out from a heart attack or fall overboard after drinking too much cerveza.
By Bob E. Sherman