The Fourth of July is one of the busiest boating days of the year, second only to Memorial Day in the number of boats headed out to enjoy Florida’s spectacular waterways.
With nearly one million registered boaters, Florida leads the nation in both the number of boats per capita and the number of boating accidents and fatalities each year. In 2018, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 628 boating accidents resulting in 307 injuries and 59 fatalities, most – if not all of them – avoidable.
When thousands of recreational boaters congregate to delight in the sun, the salt spray, the fishing, the partying, and the fireworks, safety on the water becomes more critical than ever.
That’s why, if you’re planning to celebrate the Fourth on your boat, we’d like to remind you that nobody ever leaves the dock worried they won’t return.
The U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the National Safe Boating Council, and all of us at InterMarine Boats urge you to follow these important safety guidelines to make sure your holiday is spectacular – and safe.
1. Make sure your vessel is in safe working order.
Before you launch your boat or leave the dock, check all your systems and emergency gear to make sure everything is in good working order. Since you’ll probably be out after dark to enjoy the fireworks, pay special attention to your navigation lights, horns, and radio. The Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadron will be glad to schedule a complimentary vessel safety check to make sure you have everything you need.
2. File a float plan.
This is a very important part of safe boating that often gets overlooked. Tell someone – a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker -- where you’re going, when you expect to be back, and who to contact if they don’t hear from you on time.
3. Conduct a safety briefing for everyone onboard.
Familiarize your onboard guests with the location and operation of lifejackets, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, VHF, and important emergency procedures, before you get underway. Emergencies are always unexpected, and the resulting chaos is not the time to try to educate guests about basic boating safety.
4. Wear lifejackets.
More than 75% of boating fatalities are drownings, and 84% of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. And fully 8 out of 10 boaters who drowned were operating boats of less than 21 feet in length. Falling overboard, collision with a fixed object, or capsizing accounted for most drowning deaths. Your life jacket is as essential a piece of safety equipment on your boat as the seat belt in your car. Insist that everyone aboard wears a Coast Guard-approved lifejacket while underway and while participating in watersports.
5. Use an engine kill switch or dead man’s cord.
Should you lose control of your boat by falling overboard, losing consciousness, or by being ejected during a collision, a kill switch or dead man’s cord will immediately cut power to the engine and prevent the boat from running over you or others in the water.
6. Be alert to your surroundings.
The Coast Guard reports that operator inattention and improper lookout were the two biggest contributing factors in the majority of boating accidents. Therefore, the most important navigational equipment you have on your boat are your own eyes and ears – and those of your guests. Be aware of swimmers, divers, water skiers, kayakers, and other boats underway. Watch what they’re doing, not just the radar, chart plotter, or your cell phone. Post a designated lookout when approaching an anchorage or when cruising unfamiliar waters, paying attention to what’s in front, in back, and beside you.
7. Operate responsibly.
Make sure you’re familiar with local boating speed zones, anchoring regulations, and noise restrictions, and follow them to the letter. Be courteous. Don’t cut people off at launch ramps or marina entrances. Be conscious. Watch your speed. Watch your wake. Be cautious, especially when you’re crowded in with other boats. Use common sense.
8. Take fire risk seriously.
Fiberglass is notoriously flammable, and once it catches, a boat can melt to the waterline within a matter of minutes. Stray sparks or embers from fireworks or flares might ignite spilled fuel or fuel connections. Do not launch fireworks from your boat. Steer clear of others who are launching fireworks from their boats or close by on shore. And do NOT launch flares – even expired ones – from your boat without notifying the Coast Guard well enough in advance for them to publish a Notice to Mariners. Failure to do so can result in a $5000 fine plus related expenses for setting off a false distress signal.
9. Boat Sober
The leading contributing factor in boating-related fatalities is alcohol. When you combine a cocktail or two (or more) with the sun, the wind, the waves, and the “motion of the ocean,” the effects of alcohol consumption will increase dramatically. Judgement, balance, and coordination will suffer, affecting everyone’s ability – captain, crew, and guests alike – to respond appropriately and effectively in an emergency. And the penalties for boating under the influence are serious – with fines of up to $100,000 and prison sentences of up to a year.
10. Report accidents or emergencies immediately.
Should you witness or find yourself involved in an accident or emergency, you must stop your vessel immediately at the scene (unless it would endanger you, your boat, or your passengers), and give any assistance you can to anyone who is injured. Exchange names, addresses, and vessel identification numbers, just as you would in a car accident. If anyone requires medical attention, or if there’s obviously more than $2000 in property damage, call 911 from your cell phone, or hail the Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. You must also report to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Division, by calling 1-888-404-3922 or *FWC from your mobile phone. Failure to report an accident and failure to give assistance are both criminal offenses.
Remember, nobody ever leaves the dock expecting they won’t return. Make sure you, your boat, your crew, and your guests have a fabulous – and safe – 4th of July holiday.
If there’s anything we can do to help you plan the perfect 4th of July outing on your boat, we’d love to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out by phone or in person at the location nearest you.
Photo credit: Bayliner Boats