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Safe at Sea: Basic ‘rules of the road’ when out on the water

By Staff | May 30, 2018

A recent summary of boating fatalities by the U.S. Coast Guard indicated the total number of deaths from recreational boating accidents increased in 2016 over the year before – by 12 percent – going from 626 to 701. The reported total boating accidents increased from 4,158 to 4,463. The estimated property damage report from boating accidents was $49 million.

There are several prominent causes of accidents resulting in death or very serious injury. They are not much different than are found on our highways. Impairment of the operator or passengers by alcohol or drugs is the leading factor and accounts for 15 percent of the fatalities. Other causes include operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, weather conditions and equipment failure.

People very seldom plan to get wet when they board a boat unless, of course, they are going water skiing or swimming from the boat. By far, most deaths and serious injuries among boaters occur among people who did not intend to get wet when they boarded the boat. Rules of boat operation are designed to encourage and improve safe operation of boats. Passengers on recreational boats should be aware of their vessel operator’s ability and knowledge of safe operating techniques. A good, safety conscious operator will want passengers to know where life jackets are, will not allow passengers to sit in precarious places along the vessel’s deck edges while underway, will avoid consumption of alcoholic beverages when responsible for operating the boat and will carefully avoid being distracted from watching for other boats or obstacles in the water.

For boat operators, there are “rules of the road” that can be learned through the courses offered by the America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva.

One primary rule every boater should know is that the last person with a clear chance to avoid a collision has an obligation to do so. Other brief guidelines include sounding a horn when overtaking another boat – once when passing on its starboard or right side, or twice if passing on its port or left side.

A boat approaching from a boater’s starboard side, if it is the same kind of boat, has the right of way and, therefore, the boat to the port side should yield or give way. A boat under sail or paddle or oars has right of way over a power boat.

In our nearby waters, channels beneath bridges require traverse at closed throttle with no wake being created. During entry to or from these “no wake” zones, a boater should anticipate encountering large waves caused by other boats accelerating or slowing, with substantial wave action resulting. While boaters are responsible for the wake they create, it does little good to try proving who created a large wake if a passenger on your boat has been injured when his own captain did not properly deal with some heavy wave conditions along the way.

For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org.

Bob Eidsvold is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva.