June 27, 2003

July 4th Holiday Weekend Boating Safety Tips

Nearly 20% of all boating accidents in California occur during the three Summer holiday weekends of Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. As Independence Day approaches, the Department of Boating and Waterways is issuing a reminder to boaters to stay safe on the water.

On holidays, the waterways are filled with boaters, many of whom are inexperienced. Collisions are the most common type of boating accident and operator inexperience and inattention are the leading causes. Remembering a few simple boating rules of the road, such as keeping a sharp lookout for other boat traffic, can help prevent collisions on congested waterways.

Many of these rules are similar to those for cars. Stay to the right side of channels. In a crossing situation, the person on the right has the right-of-way. When you meet another boat head-on, each boater should alter course to the right.

In congested areas, intoxicated operators and passengers can increase the already high risk of accident. Alcohol and boating can be a deadly mix, especially when combined with stressors in the marine environment, such as sun, glare, wind, heat, and boat and engine noise. Last year, 50% of boating fatalities were alcohol related, and half of those who died were passengers whose intoxication contributed to their deaths.

This year, water levels on many rivers are high and in some areas the water is still cold from late snowmelt. The current may be swift, strong and not always visible. River conditions can change quickly due to weather and water releases, resulting in increased danger. California's rivers and lakes have rocky bottoms and sudden drop-offs, a combination that has led to children drowning in as little as four feet of water.

The dangers of exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) from boat engine exhaust have been the subject of recent safety campaigns by the Department and by the U. S. Coast Guard, following the emergence of a popular and dangerous fad, known as "teak" or "drag" surfing: holding onto the swim platform (where CO can accumulate) of an underway vessel and letting go to bodysurf the wake. Doing so over even a short period of time has led to fainting resulting in drownings in the boating environment.

Parents should keep a watchful eye on children playing in or around the water, and are advised to put life jackets on little ones when they're wading as an added safety measure. When boating, children under the age of 13 must wear their life jackets when aboard a boat 26 feet long or smaller, while the vessel is under way.

Adults should also take precautions for their own safety. In a commonly seen accident scenario, parents insure the children are wearing life jackets, but neglect to wear life jackets themselves, instead relying on their swimming ability to keep them safe.

Swimming out too far, or attempting to retrieve gear in the water, and being swept away by currents, are all scenarios when the persons would have survived if they had been wearing their life jackets.

The July 4th weekend could be safer this year if boaters remember to maintain a proper lookout, wear their life jackets, and watch the alcohol.