Boating safety - tips on boating this Memorial Day weekend while keeping you and your family safe

Coast Guard crews and other law enforcement agencies have responded to numerous disabled vessels over Memorial Day weekend. Sixty-two people lost their lives in Florida last year in boating accidents and there have already been 11 death so far this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 
In an email, Richard Hutchinson, a search and rescue coordinator at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg , wrote that having a VHF-FM marine radio is one of the important safety measures a boater can take. "A radio is the best method of communication while on the water. Although cell phones are a good backup, they can be unreliable due to gaps in coverage area and the inevitable dead battery," he said.
Here are some other tips to keep you and your family safe on the water:
  • Take a boating safety education course. Most boating fatalities occur on boats where the operator hasn't taken this course. 
  • Make sure all equipment is in good working order before leaving the dock. 
  • Get a free vessel safety check by the Coast Guard Auxiliary if you want a second pair of eyes on your boat.     
  • Make sure a friend or relative who's staying on shore knows your plan - including who's on board, where you're going and when you expect to arrive. 
  • Check the weather - including winds, currents and tides.
  • Wear your life jacket. More than 90 percent of boaters who drown were not wearing life jackets. 
  • Have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) on your person or attached to your life jacket. Have a digital 406 HHz EPIRB to your vessel as well. 
  • Renew flares and signaling devices. Day and night visible flares, a signal mirror and a whistle or air horn can alert others if you're in distress.
When boating with pets:
  • Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are life=threatening to both people and pets. Make sure everyone, including pets, have access to a shaded area on the vessel.
  • Pets need access to ample fresh drinking water.
  • If your pet has trouble swimming, consider purchasing a life jacket or other pet-safe floatation device. 
  • If your pet is going to go swimming, ensure there is an easy access point for him or her to get on or off the boat to prevent fatigue or injuries.
  • Make sure engines are not engaged while people or pets are in the water.

"The likelihood of a boating accident increases on Memorial Day weekend," said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA - The Auto Club Group. "Rivers and lakes are loaded with boats and the boaters are oftentimes loaded on alcohol." Alcohol use ranks sixth in total boating accidents but is the lead contributing factor in accidents involving deaths. "Drinking while driving is just as illegal in a boat as it is in a car," Jenkins said. "What's worse is many boaters who spent the day drinking on the water still have to drive their car home from the docks. Whether you are on the road or the water this Memorial Day weekend, be sure to have a designated driver if you plan to drink." AAA is offering a free, confidential ride how with a 10-mile radius and tow today.

ABC Action News went for a boat safety ride along with Lt. Deal Farrell with the St. Pete Fire Rescue Marine Unit Monday morning.

He reiterated the importance of a "Float Plan."

"It is important.  That way everyone in your family and the marina will know when you are leaving, when you should be coming back, if you are not back at a certain time they should make calls," explained Lt. Farrell.

Farrell said his agency is responding to a great number of calls where people have run aground in shallow water.

"You should know your navigational charts and the area you are going to go into," he said, noting that maps are updated annually.


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