Tips for Avoiding Boat Accidents
We never expect accidents to happen. Boating accidents are no different. But being prepared and taking some simple steps can help reduce our chances of having an accident and injury – and the legal process that often goes with them. Being on the water is grand – but it pays to play it safe. No matter how much fun you can have boating, there are several precautions you need to take care of before leaving the dock. The safest outing is one that is planned for several days before you set out…by having all necessary safety equipment on board and checking weather reports.
Pay attention to the weather reports because these will give you an idea if the conditions are safe. Boat-related weather reports include ratings of wind such as Gale Warning, Storm Warning, Tropical Storm, and Hurricane. When you hear one of these warnings issued, they are effective for up to 24 hours from the time they are announced. Keep in mind that a knot is the speed of one nautical mile, and is equivalent to 1.15 miles per hour.
You will commonly hear a “Small Craft Advisory,” which is effective for up to 12 hours when reported. Often taken lightly, it can still mean tough conditions for smaller boats. Winds will be 18 to 33 knots, and this warning may even be issued for lower wind speeds if the sea is considered hazardous for small craft activities. You yourself determine if your vehicle is a “small craft.”
Radio and lights are essential. Always use your running lights at night and at dusk. And you should also keep the radio on at all times even while you are out on the water. Weather conditions can change suddenly. We never think it will happen to us – but we can be enjoying ourselves one minute and find ourselves in storm conditions the next.
Always have flares on board if your boat breaks down at night and people can’t see you or find you.
What radio do you have on board? The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio is the most highly regarded, 24-7 resource for weather and emergency information. In order to get NOAA, you will need a radio that can access VHF frequencies. These types of radios can be purchased in electronics, department, sporting goods, and boat and marine accessory stores. You can get a standalone VHF radio, or one with multi-band/function capabilities. You want to look for the “Public Alert Devices” logo on the product, which ensures that the radio has all the required functions you will need for emergency information.
Note that you absolutely must have an approved non-inflatable Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (PFD) for every person in the boat. Obey speed limits and don’t weave around other boats or pass recklessly. Take a boating safety course and keep the certificate of completion on your boat.
Watercraft operators must meet the age (13 years or older) and boater education requirements in order to legally operate any of the following vessels in Texas:
A powerboat powered by a motor of more than 15 horsepower or …
A personal watercraft or …
A windblown vessel over 14 feet in length.
Follow these pointers to avoid unsafe conditions and potential accidents. Encourage others on your boat with you to know the laws as well. If an accident does occur, stay calm, take pictures and record details right away if possible. Obviously tending to injuries comes first. Enjoy boating safely.