Safety on the Water
According the United States Coast Guard, 47% of the boating accidental deaths recorded in the United States in 2017 were by drowning as a result of falling overboard, followed by 20% as result of flooding/swamping. Drowning was the cause of death in 67% of all deaths resulting from boating accidents. Of the 449 deaths attributed to drowning, 82% of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.
The remaining 33% of boating accident deaths were as a result of collisions, either with a fixed object or another vessel.
I personally believe that the 3 most important rules of boating safety are;
Rule # 1 – don’t fall overboard
Rule # 2 – don’t fall overboard
Rule # 3 – be wearing an approved life jacket, if you do
You are unlikely to drown, if you stay on board the boat.
Falling overboard or ending up in the water can result from many conditions or combination of conditions. Here are just a few;
– unsafe handling of a vessel
– lack of training/boating experience
– unsafe conditions on deck, i.e. improperly stowed lines
– weather conditions, i.e. heavy rain, high winds, large waves
– lack of a properly attached tether
– lack of a secure safety harness
You are overboard.........
You are now in the water. What are the circumstances? Here are some questions;
Are you wearing a life jacket?
If the answer is yes, this is good news.
Are you attached to the boat?
This one depends on the conditions;
If the waters are calm and the boat speed is zero knots, this is good news.
If there are large waves and the boat speed is 7 knots, you are in trouble.
What is the water temperature?
Your normal body temperature is 37 C and has a strong preference to remain at that temperature. In our part of the world, the water temperature is very likely much less than your body temperature, in which case, you will need to get out of the water ASAP. As the temperature of your body drops, your body starts shutting down. This cooling of the body is called Hypothermia and can result in death.
This is easier said than done. A rescue is not easy in ideal conditions and the degree of difficulty increases with the severity of the conditions. Think about it, what if, there is heavy rain, high winds and 3 meter waves?
In order to effect a rescue, the operator of the boat will need to;
– locate you
– throw a lifeline or life ring and ensure that you can attach
– get you alongside
– get you back on board……..this is the big challenge
As mentioned earlier, according to the United States Coast Guard, the remaining 33% of boating accident deaths involve collisions, either with a fixed object or another vessel. I maintain that this is about competency and the only way to reduce these numbers is through training and experience.
Recreational Boater Training
To become a safe boater, you will need to become a competent boater. Becoming a competent boater is a continuous learning process, a process involving training and experience.
Up until 1999, anyone could operate a boat in Canada for recreational purposes. As of 1999, recreational boaters in Canada must carry “Proof of Competency”. For more information on what constitutes “Proof of Competency” go to; https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/marinesafety/debs-obs-paperwork-paperwork_operator-360.htm#s1
The “Pleasure Craft Operator Card” (PCOC) should be considered the starting point for recreational boater training. There are a number of training providers in Canada, that provide both hands on courses and in classroom courses. I recommend the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron courses because I have been actively involved with the Squadron for many years and I have completed a full certificate of their courses.
There are many publications available on boating safety.
My favorite is the “Safe Boating Guide”, published by the Office of Boating Safety at Transport Canada. This guide is a free comprehensive guide to safety on the water. I am not certain if it is still available in hard copy. It is available in pdf format at the above link.
Before Leaving the Dock
A fundamental responsibility of the skipper is that he or she know their boat. Knowing your boat means that you know everything that you need to know to ensure that the boat can leave the dock safely and return to the dock safely.
A “Pre-Departure Checklist” can help ensure that you are ready to leave the dock safely. The “Safe Boating Guide” includes a comprehensive “Pre-Departure Checklist”.
A responsible skipper must know and follow “the rules of the road” when out on the water. In Canada, these rules are part of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and are generally referred to as the “Collision Regulations”.
VHF (Very High Frequency) Radio
“Marine VHF radio refers to the radio frequency range between 156 and 174 MHz, inclusive. The “VHF” signifies the very high frequency of the range. In the official language of the International Telecommunication Union the band is called the VHF maritime mobile band. In some countries additional channels are used, such as the L and F channels for leisure and fishing vessels in the Nordic countries (at 155.5–155.825 MHz).
Marine VHF radio equipment is installed on all large ships and most seagoing small craft. It is also used, with slightly different regulation, on rivers and lakes. It is used for a wide variety of purposes, including summoning rescue services and communicating with harbours, locks, bridges and marinas.
A marine VHF set is a combined transmitter and receiver and only operates on standard, international frequencies known as channels. Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) is the international calling and distress channel. Transmission power ranges between 1 and 25 watts, giving a maximum range of up to about 60 nautical miles (111 km) between aerials mounted on tall ships and hills, and 5 nautical miles (9 km; 6 mi) between aerials mounted on small boats at sea level. Frequency modulation (FM) is used, with vertical polarization, meaning that antennas have to be vertical in order to have good reception.
Modern-day marine VHF radios offer not only basic transmit and receive capabilities. Permanently mounted marine VHF radios on seagoing vessels are required to have certification of some level of “Digital Selective Calling” (DSC) capability, to allow a distress signal to be sent with a single button press.
Marine VHF mostly uses “simplex” transmission, where communication can only take place in one direction at a time. A transmit button on the set or microphone determines whether it is operating as a transmitter or a receiver. Some channels, however, are “duplex” transmission channels where communication can take place in both directions simultaneously when the equipment on both ends allow it (full duplex), otherwise “semi-duplex” is used. Each duplex channel has two frequency assignments. Duplex channels can be used to place calls on the public telephone system for a fee via a marine operator. When full duplex is used, the call is similar to one using a mobile phone or landline. When semi-duplex is used, voice is only carried one way at a time and the party on the boat must press the transmit button only when speaking. This facility is still available in some areas, though its use has largely died out with the advent of mobile and satellite phones. Marine VHF radios can also receive weather radio broadcasts, where they are available.”