Wearing life jackets is the top safety tip from several agencies urging boat operators and passengers to stay safe on the water.
Wearing life jackets is the top safety tip from several agencies urging boat operators and passengers to stay safe on the water. (Photo Credit: File photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — May is National Water Safety Month, which also includes Safe Boating Week May 21 through 27.

Boating-related incidents are blamed for an average of 350 deaths each year nationwide, including an average of 14 boating-related fatalities in Missouri, according to statistics from the Missouri Water Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard. But there are a number of basic steps boat operators and passengers can take to stay safe.

Most experts agree boating safety starts with everyone on board wearing life jackets. For Anthony Riley, a Safety and Occupational Health specialist with the Garrison Safety Office, the proper use of personal floatation devices, or PFDs, is his No. 1 boating safety tip.

“One of the most important safety tips to prevent drownings is for everyone on any boat to wear a properly-fitted life jacket,” he said.

Officials with the National Safe Boating Council and National Weather Service, which are the two main co-sponsors of Safe Boating Week this year, agree on the importance of life jackets.

“We believe wearing a life jacket is the simplest way to ensure the safety of you and your family while enjoying a day on the water,” said Yvonne Pentz, NSBC communications director.

Under Missouri law, all vessels 16 feet in length and longer must have a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board along with at least one approved throwable device. While boats under 16 feet are only required to have a throwable PFD under state law, federal law mandates that a wearable PFD is required for every person on board, and all PFDs must be stored properly.

Know the rules

Riley advised both new and experienced boaters to take a boating course.

“I would advise all boaters, regardless of their experience level to take a boating course and become familiar with the rules,” he said.

The Missouri Water Patrol offers boater safety courses, and registration is available here.

“Missouri’s Boater Education Law went into effect January 1, 2005,” Riley said. “The law states that any person born after January 1, 1984, must successfully pass a Missouri Boater Education class or test before operating any motorized vessel on state lakes.”

Prospective boaters can also learn how to maintain a proper lookout and be respectful of buoys and other navigational aids by visiting the U.S. Coast Guard’s USCG Navigation Rules information page.

Avoid alcohol

Another key safety measure boaters can take is avoiding alcohol and other intoxicants when operating any type of watercraft.

“Not only does alcohol impair a person’s judgment; it also affects vision, balance and coordination,” Riley said. “Don’t drink. Boating under the influence of alcohol is just as deadly as drinking and driving, and it is illegal in every state in the U.S.”

Other tips

Below are some additional safe boating tips from the Garrison Safety Office:

  • Operate at a safe speed at all times, especially in crowded areas. Stay alert and steer clear of large vessels and watercraft that can be restricted in their ability to stop or turn.
  • Utilize a pre-departure checklist to ensure proper gear is on board.
  • Designate an assistant boat driver. Making sure more than one person on board is familiar with all aspects of the boat’s handling, operations and general boating safety serves as a good alternative safety precaution in case the primary operator becomes incapacitated.
  • Let someone else know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone by developing a float plan. A float plan can include information such as name, address and phone number of the trip leader and passengers; boat type and registration information; trip itinerary; and types of communication and signal equipment on board the vessel.
  • Check local weather when determining route, destination and water conditions before departure to ensure it is safe to go out on the water.
  • Stay clear of the engine. Boat captains must wear the boat’s engine cut-off switch lanyard at all times. Keep watch around the propeller area when people are in the water. Never allow passengers to board or exit your boat from the water when engines are on or idling. Extra precautions should be taken near boats towing skiers or tubers.
Learn more

More tips about boating safety, fact sheets and ways to participate in Safe Boating Week are available online here.