Though the weather may be too crisp for swimming, fall is a wonderful time to get out on the water in a boat. But preparing for your boating journey takes more than simply strapping on a life jacket (the number-one safety rule) and pulling away from the dock. Though the numbers of accidents and deaths on the water have decreased over the last few years, more than 4,600 boating accidents involving 672 deaths were reported to the U.S. Coast Guard in 2010.
Follow these fundamentals for boater safety and enjoy an aquatic adventure:
• All adults and children must wear a life jacket. Yes, it was said, and it is worth repeating, as a life jacket is to a boat as a seatbelt is to a car. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 88 percent of the boating accident victims who drowned in 2010 "were not reported as wearing a life jacket." As there are different types of life jackets — all of which are regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard — consult the Coast Guard website or the location from where you rent your boat.
• Leave the alcohol on the shore. Also like a car, drinking and driving a boat do not mix. It’s also illegal.
• Watch the weather. Check the forecast before you set out, and bring a battery operated radio with you. Especially on open water, storms can brew quickly. Sudden choppy water or wind can be signs one is headed your way, so head back immediately.
• Bring the right equipment on board, such as a basic first aid kit, warm, waterproof/weather-resistant clothing, some type of signaling device (a horn, flares, etc.), a fire extinguisher, rope, and a cell phone and VHF radio.
• Know the proper protocol in "boat traffic," or when there are several vessels on the water around you, to prevent collisions. Operator error accounts for 70 percent of boating accidents, the Coast Guard reports. For example, "if a boat is approaching your vessel from your starboard (right) side in a crossing situation, the boat on the right is the privileged boat and has the right-of-way," according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources boating safety tips. "The boat on the left shall slow and/or change course to cross behind the privileged boat to avoid collision."
• Invest in a certified boating safety course offered by an organization such as the Coast Guard or a state boating regulation agency. Several also are available online, and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) provide lists of resources.
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