While we might be in the middle of winter, spring will be here before we know it. And with the warming weather of spring comes sunny days on the lake. But before sliding your boat into the water for the first time this year, make sure you’re up to date on proper safety techniques and protocol.
It doesn’t take much for a fun day on the water to turn into a dangerous situation where life and death hang in the balance. You can’t avoid every risk factor, but you can increase your odds of being safe by following these tips and tricks:
“All boat operators require a basic level of skill and competency to operate a boat safely,” BOATsmart explains. “However, if you get caught in bad weather, you will need advanced operating skills in order to return to the dock safely. This is particularly true if your boat is difficult to navigate in rough water (such as flat-bottom boats).”
Even if the sky is blue and the water is calm, you should always check the weather forecast and radar before going on the boat. Storms can pop up rather quickly – especially in the summer – and you don’t want to put yourself in a risky scenario.
At the beginning of every boating season, check to make sure you have a first aid kit on board. Open it up and inspect the contents to ensure you have all of the right items and supplies – including bandages, sunscreen, scissors, antiseptic, splint material, and NSAIDs.
Having life jackets on board is one thing. Having the right life jacket for each individual is something else entirely.
“Proper sizing is especially important when it comes to children, since they grow so rapidly,” Wholesale Marine points out. “The U.S. Coast Guard categorizes children's vests by weight, ranging from Infant Life Vests (under 30lbs.) to Teen Life Vests (90-120 lbs.). To test the fit on a small child, lift them by the shoulders of the life jacket; the child's ears and chin should not slip through.”
It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re out on the water for a few hours at a time. Aside from the normal side effects of dehydration, a lack of water will also make people more susceptible to sunburn. Always bring a cooler with water and sports drinks to keep people fueled.
On a particularly busy day on the lake, one of the biggest risk factors is the wake. Impact from wakes can cause boat passengers to be thrown into the air and forcefully back down. In order to avoid hurting your passengers – or those on other boats – always slow down when passing. If you find yourself approaching a large wake, try to take a 45-degree angle to minimize the impact.
Whether you’re towing a wakeboarder, water skier, or inflatable tube, people are going to fall into the water from time to time. Never, under any circumstances, should you leave a person swimming in open water. It’s easy for oncoming boats to miss seeing a swimmer and a collision could be deadly. Circle back around as quickly as you can and encourage swimmers to wave their arms above their head.
Your biggest measuring stick of a successful day on the lake might be the amount of fun your friends and family have, but don’t let fun come at the expense of safety. Your biggest priority should always be to return safe and secure. If that means taking some extra precautionary measures, so be it.