Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and the start of boating season. That’s why this is the perfect time to celebrate National Safe Boating Week, reminding everyone to practice safety on the water.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has partnered with the National Safe Boating Council to provide 7 safety messages–one for each day of the week. To see videos, visit the NWS site here: Safe Boating
In addition, staff from the Tampa Bay Forecast Office interviewed boating accident survivor Nick Schuyler to learn more about how others can avoid a similar accident.
Nick is the sole survivor of the tragic boating accident of February 28, 2009, when he and three other friends capsized nearly 70 miles west of Clearwater, Florida. After more than two days in the frigid Gulf waters, Nick was the only one rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Nick, a former University of South Florida football player, is very lucky to have survived the ordeal after suffering from hypothermia, liver and kidney damage, and severe lacerations.
Nick’s story began when he and three friends (including two professional football players) went out on a fishing trip. The boat capsized. Hypothermia quickly set in and took a tragic toll. During the interview, Nick provided what he believes are critical planning steps before one ventures out. Included in that is having a float plan. Nick attributed his own survival to having a life jacket available. In fact, he believes that life jackets are the most important thing on the boat. Another vital safety tool Nick discussed was the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), which can help rescue teams find you in the event of an accident.
Seven Tips for Safety from the National Weather Service
- Hypothermia. Immersion in cold water can rapidly become life threatening. Should your craft capsize–or you fall in a swift river–hypothermia in water with temperatures in the upper 30s and 40s can occur in just a matter of minutes. In fact, the human body cannot survive in water temperatures in the 50s and 60s for very long because water conducts body heat away 26 times faster than air of the same temperature. The cold water rapidly causes extremities to become numb, weakening the ability of muscles to work effectively. Consider postponing small craft boating activities until water temperatures become warmer. When you do boat, canoe, or kayak; wear appropriate protective gear and clothing in the event of exposure, accident or capsize.
- Life Jackets. Before you and your family get out on the water this year, grab a life jacket and “Wear It!” Nearly 85 percent of those who drown while boating were not wearing a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket is one of the most effective and simple life-saving strategies for safe recreational boating. Boaters are required to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board for every passenger on their vessel. Today’s life jackets are available in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They are comfortable, lightweight, and perfect for any boating activity.
- Thunderstorms. Thunderstorms can be a mariner’s worst nightmare. They can develop quickly and create dangerous wind and wave conditions. Thunderstorms can bring shifting and gusty winds, lightning, waterspouts, and torrential downpours which can turn a day’s pleasure into a nightmare of distress. There are no specific warnings or advisories for lightning but all thunderstorms produce lightning. A lightning strike to a vessel can be catastrophic, especially if it results in a fire or loss of electronics. If your boat has a cabin, then stay inside and avoid touching metal or electrical devices. If your boat doesn’t have a cabin, stay as low as you can in the boat. Boaters should use extra caution when thunderstorm conditions exist and have a plan of escape. Mariners are especially vulnerable as at times they may unable to reach port quickly. It is therefore strongly recommended you do not venture out if thunderstorms are a possibility. If you do venture out and recognize thunderstorms nearby, head to port or safe shelter as quickly as possible.
- Boating Under the Influence. The effects of alcohol can be even more hazardous on the water than on land. Boating Under the Influence, or BUI, affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination. These impairments can increase the risk of being involved in a boating accident – for both passengers and boat operators. Alcohol is a contributing factor in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities. It is illegal to operate any boat or watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. Penalties can include fines, suspension or revocation of your drivers license and even jail time.
- Marine Forecast. Typical marine forecasts predict wind speed and direction, wave heights and periods, roughness of near shore waters, and significant weather. Take particular note of any current advisories and warnings, including Small Craft Advisories, Gale or Storm Warnings which alert mariners to either high winds or waves occurring now or forecast to occur up to 24 hours from now. Special Marine Warnings are issued for sudden increase in winds to over 35 knots (40 mph), waterspouts (tornadoes over water), and hail of ¾ inches or greater and indicate a more immediate threat. You should have a marine VHF transceiver with built-in NOAA Weather Radio channels. If you venture beyond about a 25 nautical mile range from shore, you should consider buying a good quality HF single sideband transceiver and satellite phone.
- Wind and Waves. Wind over water is usually stronger than over nearby land. Wind is the main factor in wave development and in general, the stronger the wind, the larger the waves. Individual waves are measured from trough to crest. Seas are the combination of both locally generated wind waves and distantly generated swell waves and are expressed in the terms of the Significant-Wave-Height, the mean or average height of the highest one third of the waves. It approximates the value an experienced observer would report if visually estimating sea height. The danger presented to a vessel is a function of wave steepness as well as wave height and is unique to each vessel. In general for small vessels, for a given wave height the danger increases as the wave period decreases.
- Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, or EPIRBs. EPIRBs are a type of emergency radio beacon developed for use in marine environments. 406 MHz EPIRBs are divided into two categories. Category I EPIRBs are activated automatically or may be activated manually. Category II EPIRBs can only be activated manually. Either of these two types of EPIRBs may be equipped with GPS which will help rescue forces locate you more quickly. As proven by experience, an EPIRB often serves as the last line of defense when disaster strikes. All types of EPIRBs are becoming increasingly affordable and all mariners should investigate procuring one, especially those operating in harsh environments or offshore areas.
Enjoy this boating season…safely!