Before boarding and loading a boat, be certain of its capacity. This information can be located on the boat's Capacity Plate. Never overload the boat or run it on an oversized motor. Most boating fatalities are due to capsizing and falls overboard. Secure the dock lines before boarding and stay to the center of the boat as you step onto a smaller vessel. Keep heavy gear evenly distributed throughout the boat for good balance. Be sure as you are loading that there is plenty of space between the water and the top edge of the boat to prevent being flooded by a wave or wake from a passing vehicle.
When stepping into a canoe, stay low and move slowly, centering your weight towards the bottom of the boat. Go directly to paddling position and kneel for maximum control.
A few things you'll want to remember to bring with you on most boating excursions are your floatation devices, a two way radio for checking on the weather and communicating during emergencies, extra gear, and extra dry clothing. Also be sure to inform someone of your location before you leave and your expected time of return. Bring flares, sun tan lotion and a first aid kit. You may also need a flashlight, extra batteries, a map of the area, matches, and extra sunglasses. You can usually get a chart of the area, including the water's depth, major landmarks, navigational aids, shorelines, underwater danger spots, waterways and harbors at a nearby facility. Keep these in a watertight container.
Before leaving, check that everything is operational on your boat, check your fuel level, and make sure equipment such as life jackets and anchor are ready to use. Your anchor line should be at least five times longer than the water's depth. If you have never taken a boating course, you should do so in order to be aware of all the boating laws in your area. This can also lower your boater's insurance rates.
To avoid accidents, keep all of your hunting and fishing gear packed away when not in use. Carefully check for gas fumes before starting your motor, and run the blower. Stay low when changing seats, and remain centered in the boat. Throw the anchor from the bow (front) and not the stern. As with driving, keep to the right when passing, and use your radio to help maneuver difficult passes. Keep your lights on after dusk.
A passing boat has the right of way on the water. Stay on your side of passageway and maintain steady speed to let the passing vehicle move safely out of the way. The exception to this rule is sailboats. All powerboats must yield, or give right of way, to sailboats or any boat being rowed or paddled. Always stay a good distance from any large vessels, slow down and stay as far to the right as possible when passing in a narrow channel.
It's okay to pass another boat on the left when necessary, but the rule for right of way is that the boat on the left must yield to the boat on the right when one boat is not ahead of the other. Avoid crossing the other boat's wake by steering to the right while still at a good distance. Keep in mind when operating a boat that you are legally responsible for the safety of those on board, and for any damage incurred to other vessels or property while you are driving. Be careful.
Federal Law says that you must have the following items on board a boat less than 16 feet in length:
- One life jacket, type I, II, III, IV, or hybrid type V for each person on board. (Hybrid type V must be worn at all times.)
- At least one B-1 Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher. (Not required on outboard motorboats less than 26 feet.)
- Ventilation: There must be at least two ventilator ducts for the engine and fuel tank compartments. Boats built after 1980 must have power blowers.
- A horn, whistle, or bell which can be heard for half a mile.
- One Coast Guard approved backfire flame arrester on each carburetor of gasoline engines, except outboard motors.
- For coastal waters or high seas, a visual distress signal for operating at night. A boat less than 26 feet must have an orange flag with black square-and-disc and an S-O-S electric light, or 3 orange smoke signals, or 3 red flares.
Life jackets should be chosen with comfort and fit in mind. Stock your boat with enough life jackets for capacity, and remove them from the sealed plastic wrapping so that they are quickly accessible. Make sure that your equipment is Coast Guard approved and get the proper type for your activities. Try on all life jackets and adjust them, especially the children's, before buying and going out into the water. Those who cannot swim should wear a life jacket at all times when on the water.
When weather begins to cause a threat, have everyone put on their life jackets. If the boat capsizes or everyone falls off, stay with the boat.
Hypothermia is caused by the loss of body heat, and can be fatal. Avoid exposure to the wind and cold, and stay dry. Wear rain gear for protection, especially in cool weather. If your clothing gets wet, leave it on, as it will help to trap the heat of your body. If you are in the water, stay as still as possible, drawing your knees up against your body. A life jacket will help to insulate you, and so will huddling together as a group if more than one person is stranded in the water.
Once a victim is retrieved from the water, get them out of the wet clothes, and warm them gradually by wrapping in blankets, putting on dry clothing and moving to a warm environment. Give the victim warm liquids -- no caffeine or alcohol. Get medical attention.
The following Hypothermia temperature and time chart will help you to make decisions if immersed in water:
WATER EXHAUSTION OR EXPECTED TIME
TEMPERATURE UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF SURVIVAL
32.5 Under 15 Minutes Under 15-45 Minutes
32.5-40.0 15-30 Minutes 30-90 Minutes
40-50 30-60 Minutes 1-3 Hours
50-60 1-2 Hours 1-6 Hours
60-70 2-7 Hours 2-40 Hours
70-80 3-12 Hours 3- Indefinitely
over 80 Indefinitely
Alcohol and Boating
Drinking alcohol while on the water can be especially dangerous. After a number of hours exposure to the noise and vibration of the boat, the sun and wind, a boater begins to feel "boater's hypnosis." Reaction times after four hours on the boat are already slowed to a point nearing legally drunk without the addition of alcohol consumption. Adding alcohol to this will make the side effects greater than on dry land, and it's very easy to get tipsy and fall overboard. Alcohol will also reduce your body's defenses against the cold should you fall into the water, and a drunk person may actually attempt to swim down thinking that it is up when under water.
Sunburn - Serious sunburn may be accompanied by red, painful skin, chills, fever, and occasionally shock. Apply cold water. Avoid exposure to the sun until burn is completely healed. Get medical attention for serious sunburn.
Heart Attack - If the victim has no pulse and is not breathing, perform CPR and get medical assistance via radio to summon EMS to the scene when you have returned to shore.
Broken Bone - Indicated by pain, swelling, deformity, discoloration and bleeding. Keep broken bone ends and adjacent joints from moving, control bleeding, and treat for shock. Radio for help.
Shock - Indicated by pale, clammy skin, irregular breathing, and fast, weak pulse. Keep the person laying down and cover with blankets or extra clothing to prevent loss of body heat. Do not give fluids if victim is unconscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.
Burn - Apply an ice pack or use cool water to cool the burned area. If clothing is sticking to the skin, leave it in place. Shield the burn from exposure to the sun. For serious burns, give care for shock, and get medical attention as soon as possible.