23 Jan. 2007

Safety is no accident

By Jim Roeber

Last year, a tragic series of fatal “accidents” hit inland Northwest boaters.

However, only one of these tragedies can truly be deemed a chance accident: A student wearing a properly fitted and secured life jacket and helmet died during an organized rafting trip. The student got caught in a log snag that had developed overnight and had gone unnoticed by the raft operators.

The other fatal boating events could have been prevented with normal safety precautions and common-sense seamanship.

Everyone knows life jackets save lives. But the best life jacket in the world won’t save your life if it’s stored in a locker or under a seat; it must be worn. Life jackets must also be properly secured and fitted. A loose-fitting life jacket can be knocked off in a collision or slip off in the water.

People involved in boating accidents often say they didn’t have time to put on their life jackets. However, everyone can take time to put on a life jacket before the trip begins.

Boating collisions occur as a result of operator inattention, whether from momentary distractions or reduced visibility. Restricted visibility doesn’t just refer to boating at night or in fog or rain but to anytime you can’t see ahead and around you. Follow the old maxim: You should always be able to stop within half the distance of your visibility.

When a boating emergency arises, using the proper communications system can save you precious minutes. Unlike citizens band radio or cell phone networks, VHF marine radio is monitored around-the-clock by other boaters and emergency personnel. Not having the proper calling system onboard or choosing not to use it can turn an “accident” into a disaster.

Whether you’re on a boat or in your own home, breathing in carbon monoxide—an odorless, colorless, tasteless, invisible gas—can kill you. It displaces the oxygen molecules that attach to the hemoglobin in your blood and deprives your body of the oxygen it needs to survive. Carbon monoxide exposure is cumulative—a little today, a little more tomorrow, maybe some next week, and you can be in big trouble.

Exhaust from any engine, generator, propane, charcoal heater or any device that burns hydrocarbon fuel contains deadly amounts of carbon monoxide. Wherever you are, you need fresh air. Preventing fresh air from entering your living space—or letting exhaust in—is no accident.

Life is full of decisions, and bad ones can cost lives. Enjoy your time on the water but never forget that safe boating is no accident.

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