Put safety first on the waterways

July 04, 2004

The July 4 holiday weekend is always one of the biggest boating holidays of the season. Most resorts or recreation areas are reporting that boat traffic has been down this year due to high water levels on many rivers and cool water temperatures on the most popular lakes. Things have improved recently, however.

Even with the sluggish economy of the past three years, boating remains popular. In our area, the most popular boat types range from jet skis (personal watercraft) to the big pleasure boats designed for water skiing and looking good as you cruise the lake. Somewhere in between are the many models of fishing boats in all shapes and sizes.

Now that the really hot weather has arrived, the pleasure boats will be out in force. On the most popular waters, the traffic has increased to where it can get dangerous out there. As a result, state and federal agencies are issuing warnings about the dangers associated with boating and making recommendations on how boaters can help reduce accidents.


According to both state agencies and national groups like the National Safe Boating Council, one of the biggest contributing factors in accidents is the use of alcohol when operating a boat. The parallel to driving a car and drinking is obvious. More than 50 percent of boating accidents that resulted in death can be traced to alcohol use.

One of the most basic recommendations to boaters is that they use Personal Floatation Devices or life jackets. This is often overlooked in the hot days of summer because most of us find them hot and uncomfortable to wear. One positive development in this area is the new inflatable PFDs, which are not as hot or bulky in summer weather.

The following are some other safety recommendations, compiled from several sources:

  • One great approach to boat safety is to take a boating safety class offered by your local Power Squadron, Coast Guard Auxiliary or Red Cross.

  • Never overload your boat. This is a common cause of serious accidents. Know your boat's load limit and don't exceed it.

  • A safe boat is a well-equipped boat. Always carry the necessary safety gear, and know how to use all of the safety-related accessories.

  • Keep life jackets visible and accessible. Always insist that kids wear a PFD.

  • Moderation and common sense should dictate how much alcohol is consumed.

If you are driving, you should know that most experts now recommend a designated-driver approach as in automobile driving. The best policy is to wait until you're finished running for the day before enjoying alcoholic beverages.

It is obvious that the state agencies and boating experts are stressing the similarities of operating a boat to driving a car. Most of the recommendations are simply common-sense suggestions to encourage people to operate a boat in a safe and responsible manner. As boat traffic continues to increase, this makes good sense.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached by e-mail at

The Herald-Mail Articles