Kenneth Kieser: Remember to follow safe boating rules this summer

The Examiner
Boats are fun but dangerous when not handled correctly.

Warm weather means many of us will be in boats for fishing, skiing or whatever hobby you enjoy. 

Sadly, there will likely be accidents and possible fatalities, many associated with drinking and just plain carelessness.  

I am still amazed by boats running full power in heavy fog, especially in fishing tournaments. Boats anchored off or moving slowly while fishing a shoreline have been run over by these speeding boats, generally causing serious injury or frequently death. Please slow down when visibility is limited.  

Here are some tips for safe boating from BoatUS, the Boat Owners Association of The United States: 

• File a float plan: Telling a responsible family member or friend, leaving a note (on your vehicle’s dashboard) at the launch ramp, or using a smart phone float plan app, are great ways to allow someone else to trigger the alarm if you fail to return by an appointed time. 

• Learn from what the U.S. Coast Guard boating safety reports tell us: Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and alcohol rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. 

This summer, recreational boaters can focus on these factors by putting down the cellphone, practicing using S.C.A.N. procedures to avoid distracted boating, taking a free boating safety course, slowing down, and driving more defensively, especially in congested boating areas. 

Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, so save the celebration for after the boat is safely tied up for the night. Boat operators also need to recognize they are responsible for the safety of their guests, including inebriated ones. 

• Label your SUP (stand-up paddle), canoe, or kayak: Adding contact information on the inside of your paddle craft with a waterproof marker could mean less time the U.S. Coast Guard and first responders need to spend chasing down false alarms. This frees up valuable resources when time really counts. 

And let’s face it, another benefit is that you may get your paddle craft back after it blows down the lake. It’s also a good idea to let authorities know if your paddle craft has gone missing. 

• Do not leave shore … without a fully charged phone: Smartphones are part of life ashore and aboard. The reality, however, is that many boaters put all their safety eggs in one basket and rely solely on a cellphone to call for help. Cellphone batteries generally don’t do well after a long day of running apps, listening to music, texting and taking photos. And for many phones, water is the enemy. 

Consider keeping your phone in a waterproof pouch or case. If you need help for routine, nonemergency assistance, such as a tow home, battery jump, fuel delivery or soft ungrounding, download the BoatUS App that connects boaters to closest local TowBoatUS response vessel. 

• Register your EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacons) or PLB (personal locator beacons): The U.S. Coast Guard receives hundreds of false alerts each year from these critical safety devices. To free up more time for responding to real emergencies, boaters need to properly register these. If you need a beacon for only a short period of time, rent one from the affordable BoatUS Foundation EPIRB/PLB rental program. 

• The best life jacket is the one you will wear, meaning one that’s comfortable. There are many lightweight inflatable life jackets that fit the bill. Check the jacket’s label to ensure it’s approved for your type of boating. If the kids are visiting, don’t be tempted to put a child in an ill-fitting adult life jacket. The BoatUS Foundation’s Life Jacket Loaner program for kids offers a free and easy way to borrow an infant, child or teen life jacket for the day or weekend with locations at nearly 600 marinas, boat clubs and other waterfront locations across the country. 

• Remember to wear an engine cutoff switch if your boat is less than 26 feet, traveling on plane or above displacement speed. Some exemptions apply to this new rule went into effect April 1, including if the vessel has an enclosed helm. Engine cutoff switches can prevent boat strike injuries after an operator has been ejected from the vessel or displaced from the helm. 

• Have a VHF radio aboard on larger boats— but not just any old VHF radio: All VHF radios are not alike. One of the best ways to speed an on-water rescue is to have a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) VHF radio aboard. A DSC-VHF radio does all of the things a regular VHF does, but it also has a unique press-one-button mayday feature that gives rescuers your vessel’s location — taking the “search” out of search and rescue. 

The newest waterproof handheld DSC-VHF radios are great for small boats. Before you install your DSC-VHF radio, be sure to get your radio’s Maritime Mobile Service Identity Number (MMSI). That is your vessel’s unique ID. BoatUS members can request one for free. 

The BoatUS App makes it easy to summon water and road assistance 24/7 and can speed response times (BoatUS.com/App). For more information go to BoatUS.com/Towing

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com.

Kenneth L. Kieser