The summer sailors have packed it in, the tourists have gone home, and the deserted inland and coastal waterways are peaceful and relaxing—until you get into trouble, that is.
Although most boating accidents occur during the summer, the potential for serious injury soars in the offseason when fewer boaters and law enforcement officers are on the water to provide assistance or rescue.
U.S. Coast Guard 2011 national accident data show that approximately one in 10 boating accidents in July involved a fatality; in December that number was just over one in four.
Swamping, capsizing and falling overboard—and the sudden storms that can cause them—become more hazardous in the fall and winter when water temperatures drop. The key to avoiding a crisis is to be thoroughly prepared before heading out. Here are some things you can do to maximize safety when boating in the offseason:
- Dress in layers and take along extra clothing in a waterproof bag. Consider wearing a float coat or jacket.
- Wear quality non-slip footwear; wear socks, even with sandals.
- Take along a well-stocked first-aid kit.
- Put together a basic survival kit that includes blankets, a VHF marine radio, matches, a disposable lighter, dense-calorie food, and warm beverages such as coffee or cocoa.
- File a float plan. Tell friends and family exactly where you’re going and when you plan to return.
- Boat with at least one other person; two is better. If someone is injured or falls in the water, the other can summon assistance or help the person back on board.
- Consult a chart of the area where you’ll be boating. Know where to wait for help and how to summon help if you need it.
- Take a boating safety course as well as a first-aid and CPR course.
Peaceful surroundings and fall colors make the offseason a great time to enjoy the nation’s lakes, coastal areas and waterways. Enjoy their quiet beauty, but for your sake and the sake of your passengers, take time to plan for seasonal conditions and emergencies. –U.S. Coast Guard