FINS, FUR & FEATHERS: Boating safety key during summer

With warmer temperatures, longer hours of sunlight, and the kids being out of school, more people will be taking to local waters to have some fun in the great outdoors.

  • Saturday, June 22, 2002 8:00pm
  • Sports

With warmer temperatures, longer hours of sunlight, and the kids being out of school, more people will be taking to local waters to have some fun in the great outdoors.

While this is a great summertime activity, there are some important safety reminders that need to be stressed before you venture out. With recent events, it is important that we review these important tips before tragedy strikes.

While area lakes may warm to a decent temperature for swimming, Puget Sound water temperature only rises a few degrees in the summer. The waters remain extremely chilly no matter what the thermometer may register. This cold water can quickly sap your strength and energy.

It has been estimated that a well-conditioned athlete would succumb to the effects of hypothermia in just a few minutes. Unfortunately, most of us are not athletes and the effects would set in much quicker.

The best way to stay out of this situation is by not getting in the water in the first place, but that is not always possible when boating on the Sound.

First and foremost before you venture out, check the local weather forecast. With today’s technology this is a very simple task that gets overlooked often. Winds can change quickly making calm water into large swells in no time at all. Do not venture out into any conditions that your boat is not equipped to handle.

It is a good idea for all boaters to carry a weather alert radio. These little devices are inexpensive and will automatically alert you to any incoming weather advisories.

Take into account the times of the tides and the flow of the water. Tides with little change in water depth may be no problem, but if you are out during a major tide swing, you boat can be in for a rough ride.

Another important tip is to file a float plan with someone. This is just a note telling someone where you will be and around what time to expect you back. This little note can be the difference to a search being conducted quickly or you spending the night stranded. A cellular phone is another good piece of safety equipment. If you change your float plan or you need help, these little gizmos have saved many lives and are some very cheap insurance. Other things to include on your float plan; number and names of others onboard, what activity you will be doing (i.e. crabbing in Crescent Harbor), and the color and name of your vessel.

Now that you have taken some precautionary steps, lets make sure you are properly equipped for a water emergency. You should have a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) for every passenger on your boat, plus a throwable one. Washington law requires PFD’s for all children and the numbers will vary on the size of your boat, but it is a good idea to wear them no matter what size craft you have.

As mentioned a cell phone is a good idea as is a marine VHF radio. Either of these can put you in contact with help in a pinch. Some small boaters don’t carry a radio, but still need some signaling device. An air horn is a cheap device or you can purchase a flare kit for any sized boat. These little items can help you if needed.

What you do if your boat capsizes and you are in the cold water can mean the difference between life and death. Everybody should be in his or her PFD, so the first step is to try and remain with the boat. An overturned boat is much easier to see in the swells of a water search than individuals. If you can get out of the water, this will reduce the body heat you will be losing.

If this is not possible try and get all parties to huddle together to conserve body heat. If you are alone, tuck you knees to your chest to retain as much of your body heat as possible. It is important to remain calm. The absolute last resort is to try and swim to the shore. Increased activity will bring on the effects of hypothermia faster than if you remain still. That is why if you can stay with the boat or some sort of item floating in the water, you better your chances for survival.

We are blessed with having all this water around us. It provides us with countless hours of recreational fun for our families. With a few simple tips of prevention and some respect for Mother Nature, there is no need for a day of summer fun to turn into tragedy. The brave men and women of the rescue services want you to enjoy our water fun safely this summer.

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