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Fire district offers tips for safe boating

By Staff | Jul 28, 2020

Fire Chief Jeff Pawul

Following recent reports of area boating accidents and experiencing an uptick in its own water-related calls, the Captiva Island Fire Control District offered a few tips to help keep everyone a little safer.

“We have definitely been seeing more calls on the water,” Fire Chief Jeff Pawul said.

He attributed part of the increase to it being summer, which usually results in more boating activity.

“I think the other reason we have more boats on the water is with COVID right now, everything else is canceled,” Pawul said. “Everybody’s got every weekend free, so everybody’s taking their boat out.”

His crew has responded to incidents from medical emergencies, to boats stuck on sandbars.

“The calls are kind of across the board,” Pawul said. “But it does seem there’s an increase in calls related to a lack of experience or a lack of knowledge on the water, the area, the weather.”

He offered a few suggestions to help ensure a safe enjoyable adventure while boating.

“If you’re not experienced, take a class,” Pawul said, explaining that free and for-pay courses are available, even online. “Try and educate yourself one way or another before you get out on the water.”

Education is useful for everyone – boat renters, those looking to buy and current boat owners.

“The more educated you are, the more it makes up for any lack of experience,” he said.

Pay attention to the weather.

“Know what the weather is going to do and when it’s going to do it,” Pawul said, pointing out that afternoon storms are commonplace during the summer months in Florida. “Don’t be an hour away from your marina when there’s a thunderstorm coming.”

Do not consume alcohol if you are captaining the boat.

“Make sure you’re not drinking if you’re the one operating the boat,” he said.

Life jackets, and the proper use of them, are important.

“Having one for everyone on the boat is the first step,” Pawul said. “Making sure you have one that properly fits everyone on the boat is the next step.”

He cited giving a child an adult-sized life jacket as an example.

“That’s not going to do any good if something happens,” Pawul said.

Always provide someone on shore with a float plan before taking off. It should include where you are going, what you are doing, when you are expected back and a description of the boat, kayak or such.

“Make sure you have a float plan and somebody has it,” he said.

Steer clear of a boat’s engines and check to make sure no one is near the engines before turning them on. Turn the engines off – not into neutral – if people are swimming nearby or using the ladder.

“If that gets bumped into gear,” Pawul said. “That’s going to pull them right into those propellers.”

Know how to use the boat’s electronics, plus a regular map in case they stop working.

“Our waters down here, especially on the bayside, are not the same as a lake in Minnesota or Michigan,” he said, explaining that boats can get stuck on sandbars or sustain damage if they hit one at a high rate of speed. “More importantly, it can cause injury to the people on the boat with you.”

Learn the basic rules of the road.

“Like smaller boats should stay clear of larger vessels. They can’t operate as quickly and efficiently as the smaller boats,” Pawul said, adding that big ones may have less flexibility on where they can go.

“They may be restricted to the center of the channel,” he said.

The public is encouraged to follow these safety tips.

“Everybody loves being out on the water and going on the boat, but at the same time it can quickly turn dangerous, even deadly,” Pawul said. “You don’t want your fun afternoon taking a turn for the worse.”