Friday, June 19, 2009

Boating Accidents and What to Do

When you go boating, you will encounter hazards and risks. The outcome of these encounters will be determined by your knowledge, skill, and attitude toward safety. It's important to make a boating emergency less likely to happen by taking the proper precautions, but, it's equally important to be prepared and know what to do if an emergency occurs.

Risk Management
Because most accidents are the result of a simple mistake, nearly all accidents are easily preventable. The best way to avoid having a serious accident is to take a few simple steps toward accident prevention. The water can be an unfriendly environment if you don't recognize risks and are not properly prepared for them. Risk management is the process of recognizing and acting upon accident warning signs or minimizing the effects of an accident if it does occur. If you know the "rules of the road" and how important they are to you and other boats and potential hazards and to maintain a safe speed. By practicing these rules, you greatly reduce the chance that you'll be involved in an accident.

Get in the habit of wearing your life jacket also reduces the chance that you will drown should you find yourself in the water unexpectedly. Below is additional information to help you understand and minimize the risks associated with boating and make your time on the water safe .

Increased Risk Due To Boating Stressors
The glare and heat of the sun, along with the motion of the vessel caused by the wind and the waves and the noise and vibration of the engine, have a large impact on your body that you may not even realize. These natural stressors make you tire more rapidly when on the water regardless of your age or level of fitness. Many boaters greatly underestimate the effect these stressors have on fatigue. While perhaps not fatal themselves, stressors may weaken your body and mind enough to make the risk of an accident much greater.

Increased Risk Due to Dehydration
A typical boating day in the summer causes your body to generate a large amount of heat. Sitting exposed in the sun increases your body heat. As you ride in a boat, your body automatically adjusts to the changing position of the boat. The exertion of this constant adjustment increases body heat.

The way the body rids itself of increased heat is by sweating. Increased sweating will cause dehydration if fluids are not replaced. Dehydration will make you more fatigued and more at risk for a boating accident.
The best way to minimize the risk of dehydration is to drink plenty of water before, during, and after any water activities. A good rule of thumb while you are boating in warm weather is to drink some water every 15-20 minutes.

Besides thirst, other signs of dehydration are a dry mouth, sleepiness, irritability, weakness, dizziness, and a headache. The first thing you should do if you experience any of these symptoms is to drink plenty of water. If possible, get out of the sun and rest. Serious dehydration may require medical attention. Most accidents are preventable. Even accidents attributed to the environment most likely could have been prevented if the operator had not overlooked the warning signals, had not made poor decisions, or had the proper boating skills. Many accidents attributed to equipment also could have been prevented if proper maintenance and defect detection had taken place.

A Typical U.S. Boating Fatality
Someone not wearing a PFD falls overboard and drowns or
A vessel capsizes and someone drowns or
A vessel strikes another vessel or fixed object, and the occupants are fatally injured or drown due to injuries.
Collisions can occur because boat operators are not staying alert and keeping a lookout for other boats or objects, or are going a little faster than they should. Although some collisions happen at night when it is difficult to see, many occur in daylight hours on calm, clear days. About one-third of the time, alcohol is involved.

You also might be surprised to learn that:
Typically, victims drown even though there are enough life jackets on the boat. (Remember, you probably won't have time to put on your life jacket during an emergency. Get in the habit of wearing it.) The vessel is most often a small boat of open design, such as a jon boat, canoe, or other type of boat with low sides. The victims are usually men 26 to 50 years old, who have been boating for years and likely know how to swim.

Remember, it only takes one mistake to ruin your day of boating. Pay attention, slow down a little, and wear a life jacket.

Minimize Risk of Boating Accidents, Avoid Alcohol
The effect of alcohol is increased by the natural stressors placed on your body while boating. Also, alcohol causes dehydration of your body. It takes less alcohol, combined with stressors, to impair an operator's ability to operate safely. Research has proven that one-third of the amount of alcohol that it takes to make a person legally intoxicated on land can make a boater equally intoxicated on the water.

Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, affects judgment, and slows physical reaction time. Most people become impaired after only one drink. Alcohol makes it difficult for you to pay attention and perform multiple tasks. For example, it will be more difficult for you to keep track of two or more vessels operating in your area. This could become critical if you are placed in an emergency situation and must make a sudden decision.

Alcohol can reduce your ability to distinguish colors, especially red and green. Alcohol impairment increases the likelihood of accidents—for both passengers and vessel operators. Always designate non-drinking boaters to operate the vessel and to act as an observer if your group plans to consume alcohol. Do not allow your skipper to operate if he or she is drinking. Alcohol is a major contributor to boating accidents and fatalities. Drinking while boating is a choice. The best way to minimize the risk of an accident is to make the wise choice—Don't drink and boat!

Minimize Risk of Drownings, Wear PFDs (Life Jackets)
Approximately 70% of all boating fatalities are drownings, and most of those fatalities could have been avoided. Ninety percent of drowning victims are not wearing a life jacket, drownings are rare when boaters are wearing an appropriate PFD. One of the most important things you can do to make boating safe and enjoyable is not only to carry enough life jackets for everyone on board but also to have everyone wear them.

These requirements for PFDs are both important and the law.
PFDs must be readily accessible. Better yet, each person should wear a PFD because PFDs are difficult to put on once you are in the water. In most fatal accidents, PFDs were on board but were not in use or were not within easy reach. If you are in the water without a PFD, retrieve a floating PFD and hold it to your chest by wrapping your arms around it.

PFDs must be of the proper size for the intended wearer. Always read the label of the PFD to make sure it is the right size based on the person's weight and chest size. It's especially important to check that a child's PFD fits snugly. Test the fit by picking the child up by the shoulders of the PFD and checking that his or her chin and ears do not slip through the PFD. PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition.

Regularly test a PFD's buoyancy in shallow water or a swimming pool. Over time, the ultraviolet radiation from the sun will break down the synthetic materials of your PFD. Frequently inspect PFDs for rips or tears, discolored or weakened material, insecure straps or zippers, or labels that are no longer readable. Discard and replace any PFD that has a problem. If using an inflatable PFD, before each outing check the status of the inflator and that the CO2 cylinder has not been used, has no leaks, and is screwed in tightly.

Also check that the PFD itself has no leaks by removing the CO2 cylinder and orally inflating the PFD. The PFD should still be firm after several hours. After an inflatable PFD has been inflated using a cylinder, replace the spent cylinder and re-arm it. Because an inflatable PFD is a mechanical device, it requires regular maintenance. Maintain the inflatable portion of the PFD as instructed in the owner's manual.

Inflatable Life Jackets
Some people say they don’t wear their PFDs because they’re too hot or too bulky. But that’s not an excuse anymore. Inflatable PFDs offer a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that is small and lightweight. Inflatable life jackets come in two styles: a PFD that looks like a pair of suspenders or a belt pack that looks like a small fanny pack.

Some of these PFDs are designed to inflate if the wearer falls into the water; others require the wearer to pull a cord. Inflatable PFDs are approved only for people 16 and older, and they are not to be worn on PWCs or while water-skiing. Read the operating instructions and the approval label before you choose an inflatable PFD. Then be sure to wear it.

Rescue Technique
If you are on a dock when someone falls in, you should try to "talk" the victim to safety. If he or she is unable to get to the dock, you should:

Extend a fishing rod, branch, oar, towel, or other object that can be used to REACH out to the victim and pull him or her to safety. If nothing is available, lay flat on the dock and grab the victim's hand or wrist, and pull him or her to safety.

If the victim is too far away to reach and a boat isn't handy, throw the victim a PFD or anything else that will float.

If a rowboat is available, ROW to the victim and then use an oar or paddle to pull the victim to the stern. Let the victim hold onto the stern as you paddle to shore. If the victim is too weak, hold onto him or her until help arrives. If using a powerboat, stop the engine and glide to the victim from the downwind side.

Swimmers without lifesaving training should not swim to a victim. Instead, GO for help. If you must swim, take along anything that floats to keep between you and the victim.