Enjoy summer, stay safe on the water
With summer now in full force, and the Fourth of July holiday fast approaching, it’s important that people remember some basic safety issues when it comes to enjoying the outdoors on the water. Whether you’re fishing from a boat, paddling in a canoe or kayak, or just relaxing on the water, accidents can happen quickly. And being prepared may mean the difference between enjoying a fun outing or experiencing a devastating tragedy.
Some preparations should be done long before you head to the water. For instance, everyone who plans to be out on the water should know how to swim. If nothing else, knowing how to swim can keep you from panicking if you fall into the water. Also, it is important to make sure that your boat is maintained properly and has all the required safety gear. When an accident happens, it’s too late to realize that you don’t have life-saving equipment such as a first aid kit, a flashlight, a horn or a whistle, a fire extinguisher, or floatation devices.
Speaking of floatation devices, it’s required by law that each person in a boat has a personal floatation device (a PFD). Although adults do not need to wear their life jacket, it is highly recommended that they do. In fact, about 85 percent of all boating fatalities nationwide involve people who are not wearing a life jacket. At the very least, each PFD should be easily accessible in case of an accident. And always make sure that your life jackets fit properly and snuggly. Again, a life jacket does you no good if you can’t grab it quickly when needed or if it slips off. And, by law, children under 13 in Iowa do need to have a life jacket on at all times when they are not in an enclosed cabin.
Unfortunately, many people feel that they can swim well enough, so they do not need to wear their life jacket. But, if the water gets rough, even the best swimmers can struggle. Also, if you experience a medical emergency that causes you to fall into the water, such as a heart attack or a fall where you hit your head and become unconscious, a life jacket might be the only thing that saves your life.
And, of course, it goes without saying that boating under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence. Nationally, about half of all fatal boating accidents are attributed to alcohol. In Iowa, you are considered to be boating under the influence if your blood alcohol level is .08 percent or higher. In most people, that level can be reached by consuming only two to three drinks. At .08 percent, your reaction time is a bit slower, your coordination begins to suffer, you tend to take a few more risks, and your judgement becomes impaired.
All those things can be extremely dangerous when you’re on the water, even if you’re not driving the boat. And the more you drink, the worse things become. In short, although drinking while boating can be relaxing, it can be too relaxing, and it often leads to tragic consequences. Know when you’ve had enough or, better yet, just save the drinking for when you’re relaxing back at home.
Finally, don’t forget a few other basic safety tips. Make sure your boat is not overloaded and make sure that you reduce your speed and use your running lights at night. If you feel fatigued from being out on the water too long, call it a day and come back to shore. And always be sure to listen to the weather forecast and keep an eye on the skies. The weather can change quickly and it can take a while to get back to shore. Remember, if you hear thunder, there is lightning nearby, and you should get off the water as soon as possible.
Spending time on the water can be a fun and enjoyable way to spend summer days. But, make sure you do it safely. Then, you can fondly remember those days throughout our long winter months, and look forward to many more such days next year.