Boating or the use of personal watercraft is a popular activity among personnel, but safety on the water must be a primary concern.
From Fiscal Year 2007-2011, 42 Sailors and Marines drowned, with a majority of those incidents occurring during the months of May through September. Last year alone, three sailors died as a result of drowning during the 101 Critical Days of Summer.
"During the summer months, when we feel jolly and sometimes us older people want to feel young again, you're going out and doing things that you haven't done in six, seven, eight months and you might not use your basic safety practices," said Jim Peake, the safety installation program director for Naval Support Activity Washington.
With those statistics in mind, there are several things one can do to prevent mishaps while enjoying a day on the water. The first priority of anyone going the on the water has to be preparation.
First of all, preparation begins with education, such as taking a Coast Guard approved boating course if you are going to operate the vessel. Paying particular attention to the "rules of the road" of water travel is key: it is not identical to operating an automobile on land, and collisions on the water can be just as or more dangerous as a car accident.
Being properly prepared means being properly equipped. According to United States Coast Guard regulations, there must be a Type I, II, III, or V life preserver for each individual present on any vessel operating in United States waterways. Each boat over 16 feet also requires one Type IV (throwing) device as well.
"A life jacket is a very simple and very important way to make sure that everyone who is boating remains safe," said Peake. "Ensure that everyone that is going to be going out on the water has one."
The fines for violating life jacket and other requirements on equipment are extremely expensive, and failing to follow them can literally be a life or death matter. Check your state and local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulations for specific requirements.
Another area of safety concern that the Waterline has been highlighting all summer has been the use of alcohol while participating in recreational activity. Boating is no exception. Drinking in excess while either operating or simply being on a boat is an extremely dangerous activity: over one third of boating accidents and fatalities involve alcohol in some way.
"We… know that alcohol, even in small quantities, impairs our decision making and is a significant factor in all accident categories," wrote Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in his 2012 Summer Safety address. "So before taking your first sip, think ahead and have a sensible plan."
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting Boating Under the Influence (BUI) of alcohol, and in most they are also very strict and very costly (sometimes even more so than a DUI!) The Coast Guard has concurrent jurisdiction in the vast majority of United States waterways and can also "pull a boat over" without any probable cause to ensure that safety regulations are being followed, including BUI, so combine legal concern with safety to figure out why boating and alcohol don't mix.
Another area of concern being highlighted this summer is safety when it comes to children. Anyone under the age of 16 must wear their life jacket at all times while on a boat, according to Coast Guard regulations. Special care should be taken with young kids, who not only are probably not strong swimmers, but also might not be aware of the possible consequences of an accident.
"Always watch your kids [on the water]," said Peake. "It only takes a matter of seconds for something to happen."
Finally, there are some common sense ideas to help keep one's trip safe. Always check and be aware of the weather forecast for the area and be prepared to go in if the weather conditions get poor very quickly. Operators should always tell someone where they're going and when they plan to be back, especially if they plan on boating alone. Learn to swim, if one hasn't already.
For more information on boating safety, visit the Boating Safety Resource Center at www.uscgboating.org.