When the temperature rises, accidents do the same

21 Apr 2004 | Pfc. Matthew K. Hacker

As Mother Nature blesses us with an early warm-weather reunion, and the temperature continues to rise, accidents and safety violations do the same. Many people spend quality time with their families participating in recreational activities, but they are not always aware of the regulations and safety precautions involved.

Boating is growing as a pastime and enjoyed by many servicemembers and their families, according to Jesse L. Turner, a traffic safety officer with the Base Safety Office. Unfortunately, the increased number of people boating increases the number of mishaps which kill or seriously injure more and more every year.

“The majority of accidents would not have happened if the victims had taken time to learn proper small boat operating procedures,” said Turner.

Boaters should always check the weather and local forecasts before and during a boating trip to ensure an unexpected storm doesn’t rain on the parade. They should also file a float plan with a friend or relative. A float plan is paperwork involving where the boat is being launched, the number of people aboard the boat, if they have any special medical problems, where the destination point will be and the estimated time of return.

Boaters should also know the area, and if they do not, they should ask locals about the area.

“A boater should never enter a body of water that is blind to him,” said Turner.

Furthermore, if a passenger onboard the boat is a non-swimmer or is unsure of his swimming abilities, he should where a life jacket throughout the entirety of his boating trip. Also, all children under the age of 12 must wear a life jacket at all times, despite their swimming ability, according to Turner.

Speeding is also an accident waiting to happen when it comes to water sports.

“Although local conditions may warrant the imposition of definite limitations on speed of vessels, a general speed limit is that which is implied in safe vessel operation under existing circumstances. Speed which is excessive under the circumstances, and which endangers persons or property, is one form of reckless operation, which is prohibited by North Carolina boating law,” according to North Carolina Boating Regulations.

A growing trend on the water is bow riding. This is where someone sits on the front of the boat and lets his feet drag in the water for fun.

“Now the water could feel calm at that exact moment, but a larger ship may create a wake. The rider may be thrown off the front of the boat and sucked back into the motor,” Turner said. “Bow riding can be a very fatal experience.”

With that said, every boater must be responsible for his own wake. When a “No Wake Zone” sign is posted, a citation may be legally authorized. Also, in a no wake zone, creating a large wake may destroy neighboring boats or even severely injure nearby people.

The slogan, “Don’t Drink and Drive” pertains to boating as well. Drivers can receive a Driving While Intoxicated citation for driving their boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The penalty for a DWI in a boat is much higher as it’s a federal offense.

Boaters who stop and secure their vessels to fish must also follow strict regulations. They must only fish in specified locations, and they must pay close attention to the size and bag limitations. Failure to do so may result in a state, local or Coast Guard citation.

Transporting one’s boat could also heed safety problems, even before it’s used for an event.

Choosing the proper trailer for your boat is a very important part of boating safety. More damage can be done to a boat by the stresses of road travel than by normal operation. Boat hulls are designed to support weight evenly in water. When transported on a trailer, your boat should be supported structurally as evenly across the hull as possible. This will allow for even distribution of the weight of the hull, engine and equipment. It should be long enough to support the whole length of the hull but short enough to allow the lower unit of the boat’s engine to extend freely.

Make sure the tow ball and trailer coupler are the same size and properly secured before entering a highway, as the vibration of road travel can loosen them. Also ensure the coupler is completely over the ball and the latching mechanism is locked after the trailer is loaded evenly from front to rear as well as side-to-side.

To prevent servicemembers and their families from getting in accidents or breaking the law, all boaters are encouraged to take part in formal small boat training programs offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary here.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary may be contacted for classes, boat inspections and other safety guidance. Boaters must pass the safety course in order to rent any watercraft at any of the three marinas at Marine Corps Air Station New River, Hospital Point or Courthouse Bay.

Many boaters store their vessels over the winter and then break them out in the spring thinking they’re of the same quality as last year. This is a big mistake.

All boaters should give their boat a mechanical safety inspection every spring to ensure everything is working properly before launching it.

“A proper inspection doesn’t take very long,” said Turner, “And it could save the lives of you and your family.”