Here on the Gulf Coast, recreational boating is a popular weekend hobby. Our year-round temperate weather provides the perfect environment for this activity.
But while boating is fun and exciting, it is also an inherently risky activity. In 2016 alone, the Coast Guard recorded over 4,000 recreational boating accidents, leading to more than 700 deaths. These accidents can also lead to significant costs in property damage.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid personal injury and property damage while still enjoying the water. Here are some crucial safety tips to keep in mind to prevent a boat accident.
Good Boating Habits
As with a car accident, one of the best ways to prevent a boat accident is by practicing good habits while controlling the vehicle. While being a responsible boater will not prevent every accident, it will reduce your risk.
Always Gas Up
Every driver knows that, before you go out for a long trip on the highway, you should fill the gas tank. This way, if you get stuck in traffic, you will not have to worry about running out of gas in the middle of the interstate.
Similarly, it is important to fill your boat with gas before you head out on the water. This will make it less likely that you will get stranded a mile from the shore without a way back.
In the event that you do run out of gas, most boat towing companies offer services to bring gas out to you. But if you get caught in the Gulf Stream or heavy winds, your boat can be carried far out to sea, making it difficult to locate you.
Watch Your Speed
Just like with driving a car, higher speeds while boating put you at a greater risk of a boat accident. For one, the boat becomes harder to control at high speeds. Additionally, if an accident does occur while you are going fast, the damage is likely to be more serious.
It is especially dangerous to speed at night since your visibility is decreased. Even if you have lights on your boat, keep in mind that other boaters might not have lights on their boats. Also, there are various natural obstacles that you could run your boat into.
Pay Attention to the Weather
No matter how skilled of a boater you think you may be, the truth is that you are no match for a severe storm. Lightning and high winds both pose serious risks to boaters. If these conditions are in the forecast, it is best to postpone your boat trip for another day.
You should also keep a radio on your boat so that you can keep up with forecasts. This way, if the forecast changes while you are out on the water, you can reroute to avoid the worst of it.
We all know that it is important to avoid drinking and driving in order to avoid car accidents and DWI charges. But some boaters do not realize that the same precautions should be maintained while operating a boat.
In the state of Louisiana, boat operators can be charged with a DUI for driving a boat with a blood alcohol content above .08%. It is also illegal for a boat owner to knowingly allow someone else who is intoxicated to operate the boat.
This means that if you do have a boat accident while intoxicated, you will be in for an even bigger headache. In addition to the damage and injury, you will have to deal with the charges of being intoxicated while driving.
Unlike with automobiles, it is not against the law for passengers of a boat to drink while on board. So, on a hot day while out at sea, it can be tempting to pop open a cold beer from the cooler. But being out in the heat can actually intensify the effects of alcohol, making it especially dangerous for the boat operator to imbibe.
Load Your Boat Carefully
We tend to take a lot with us while we boat. Safety materials, snacks, sporting equipment, and passengers all take up a lot of room. To avoid a boat accident, make sure the weight on the boat is well distributed.
Try to load items evenly on both sides of the boat, and in the front and back. If passengers plan on sitting on one side, consider putting more weight on the other side.
Before launching out, take time by that dock to see how the boat balances on the water. If it’s leaning to one side, redistribute the weight before leaving. If you can’t get the boat steady, you will need to remove items.
Additionally, do not allow passengers to sit anywhere on the boat that is not designated for sitting putting too much weight on these areas can lead to tipping or capsizing.
It may seem like a no-brainer that the boat operator should watch where they are going. But, as with driving a car, distraction is a major cause of many boat accidents.
Always watch where you are going, especially at high speeds. Do not allow socializing or fiddling with equipment to get your attention off the water, which is your top priority.
Take a Boating Course
In order to drive a car, you must pass a driving test and be issued a license. The regulations for operating a boat are much more relaxed. But even if it is not mandatory, taking a boating safety course is a good idea if you want to avoid a boat accident.
Also, many people assume that driving a boat will be intuitive if they know how to drive a car, but this is not the case. Being out on the water adds many variables that make boating more complicated.
A boat safety course will cover the parts of the boat, basics of navigation, equipment regulations, etc. Learning this information will make you a more effective boater, and will help you to respond in the event of an accident.
Keep Your Boat in Good Condition
Another important way to avoid a boat accident is to make sure to keep your boat well maintained. Mechanical and structural issues can lead to problems at sea. And unlike with a car, it is much harder to pull a boat over the take a closer look at what the problem is.
Many people do not realize that their boat can catch on fire in the middle of the water. But a spark from a wire or a faulty battery can cause one to ignite. To avoid this, always check your battery before heading out.
Another potential cause of fire is a gas leak. For this reason, it is important to always be cautious when smoking on a boat.
Check Hull Fittings
Even if you do not have any major holes in your boat, water can seep in through hull fittings. Especially as the fittings wear away, the water coming in can be more significant. This can cause your boat to sink.
Typically, brass and plastic are good choices for hull fittings. But even the best fittings eventually wear away or break.
To avoid a boat accident, always check all your hull fittings before you leave. Also, bring some wooden plugs with you that you can use to stop up the hulls in case a fitting breaks at sea.
Wash Your Boat
Washing your boat is not just about aesthetics. It is also a safety issue.
When you take your boat into the ocean, salt collects on it. Over time, this salty water corroded the metal, which can lead to leaks or holes. Cleaning the boat regularly will prevent this from happening, and will help you spot potential issues.
Change Your Oil
Just like with your car, your boat’s oil should be changed regularly. Without regular oil changes, the engine could seize up unexpectedly, which could cause a boat accident. It also might leave you stranded out at sea.
A good rule of thumb is to change your boat oil after every 100 hours of operation. If you do not use your boat very frequently, at least once a year should be often enough.
Storing Your Boat
Wherever you store your boat, make sure that it is safe from elements or potential damage. For instance, if you leave it in your driveway, you may want to cover it so that it is not exposed to the elements. This will keep it in working order longer.
Being Prepared for a Boat Accident
While these precautions can prevent a boat accident in many scenarios, there is no perfect solution to avoid accidents entirely. In the event of an accident, it is important to have the proper gear on board the vessel. This will mitigate damage caused by the boat accident.
Every boat should be equipped with life vests. The state of Louisiana requires that your boat has one functional life vest on board for every passenger. It’s not a bad idea to keep a couple of extra life vests on board in case there is a problem with one.
Also, if you have children on the boat, it is important to ensure that you have child-sized life vests. A child wearing an adult-sized life vest will have difficulty keeping their head above water.
You should also consider having a rescue flotation device that you can throw out to sea in case someone falls off the boat. This way, you can pull them back in easily without having to send another person out to rescue them.
Flares and Lights
When you stand on the shore and look at the ocean, you might be overwhelmed by just how vast it is. Imagine how difficult it would be to locate a small vessel lost at sea in the middle of the Gulf. Spotting a boat or boaters becomes even more difficult at night when visibility is compromised.
This is why it is always important to have working flares and lights when you take your boat out on the water. These items will make your boat easier to see, which can help rescuers locate you if you become stranded.
There are few things more satisfying than cranking up your boat engine and speeding off into the open water. But if there is a problem with your engine or your propeller, you will want a backup solution to get you home.
For instance, you should always have an extra propeller on board. This way, you can replace yours if it gets damaged by rocks or another boat. Also, check your propeller before you launch out to check for any existing problems or damage.
You should also have items that will allow you to propel the boat manually, like oars. If your engine breaks down or you run out of gas, you will not get stuck.
An anchor is a basic piece of equipment that every boater should have. If you get caught in the middle of a storm, an anchor will secure your vessel, preventing you from being thrown around. Also, if your boat breaks down, an anchor will prevent you from drifter further out to sea.
While fires on recreational boats are becoming increasingly rare, they do still occur. To protect you and your passengers, it is important to always have at least one fire extinguisher on board. Also, don’t forget to fire extinguishers expire, so they should be replaced periodically.
Blankets, Water, and Food
You should always have some supplies on the boat just in case you end up having to wait out a storm until you can return to shore. You should have enough blankets to keep everyone warm, and some water and food to provide sustenance. This will prevent dehydration and fatigue.
Get Help With Your Boat Accident
While we always hope not to be involved in a boat accident, there are options for help if one does occur. If you have been involved in a boat accident, and need representation regarding injury or property damage, we’re here to help.
Contact us for a free case review. Our attorneys will help you get the legal help you need for the best results.