MILWAUKEE, WI — As the coronavirus pandemic wears on in Milwaukee, many here and in other parts of the United States are hoping to put an end to a long winter and spring by spending Memorial Day weekend on the water in their newly purchased boats.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States have become first-time boat owners during the pandemic, the Water Sports Foundation recently said in a news release. Many will likely hit the Milwaukee River and Muskego Lake in the coming days.
Also, it’s because of the surge in new boat owners that the Water Sports Foundation and other organizations are taking extra steps to make sure safety is top of mind this year.
About 70 percent of boating deaths occurred on boats where the operator had no safety instruction, according to 2019 statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard. Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol use ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
Before you head out on the boat this Memorial Day weekend, here are some sound safety tips from the Water Sports Foundation to help keep you and your family safe on the water:
1. Take a boating safety education course.
Before launching your boat, be sure you are confident and comfortable at the helm, the foundation says.
There are many live, virtual and hybrid boating safety education classes available through the U.S. Coast Guard and a number of private boating education providers. For a list of educational resources, check out the National Boating Safety Media Resource Center.
2. Wear a life jacket.
Drowning is responsible for 79 percent of fatal boating accidents where the cause of death was known, according to the Water Sports Foundation. About 86 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets.
Be sure you have life jackets for all passengers on board and that they are sized to fit.
3. Do not drink and drive.
This one should go without saying, but we will say it anyway. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, according to U.S. Coast Guard data. Skip the alcohol or, at the very least, designate a “Sober Skipper.”
4. Invest in an emergency engine cutoff switch.
As of April 1, 2021, a federal law was passed that requires the use of an engine cutoff switch, or ECOS, an onboard safety device that is connected to the boat’s captain. Should the driver fall out of the boat, the ECOS will immediately stop the boat’s engine. Learn more about the $20 device.
5. File a float plan.
Before you leave the dock, tell friends, family or staff at the marina the names of all aboard, including contact information cell phone numbers. Be sure to include a planned itinerary complete with your destination, stops along the route and your estimated return time.
6. Watch the weather.
Know the forecast before you head out. Be sure to download a weather app on your phone and keep tabs on it regularly. If the weather turns severe, do not stay on the water — find shelter as soon as possible.
7. Communicate with passengers.
Should everyone remain seated while the boat is moving? Tell your passengers this before you leave the dock. Should everyone be wearing a life jacket? Communicate this, too. Set expectations and make the rules clear before you start the boat’s motor.
8. Comply with capacity limits.
If your boat can only hold six passengers, do not invite a seventh. If it has a weight limit, be sure to take coolers, gear, water toys and other cargo into account. If you overload your boat, you increase the risk of it capsizing.
9. Pay attention to your surroundings.
Just like when you drive on the freeway, you should keep an eye on other boaters at all times.
10. Choose destinations wisely.
If you’re new to boating, you might want to avoid setting sail on one of the busiest boating weekends of the year. However, if you insist on spending Memorial Day weekend on the water, head for less-crowded areas and avoid popular beaches and congested venues. GOOD SPOT TO ADD LOCAL BOATING HOT SPOTS
11. Follow posted speed limits and no-wake zones.
These are implemented with safety in mind. Disregarding them is also a quick way to incur a fine.
12. Be especially careful when boating at night.
Boating at night can add additional danger to your holiday festivities. If you plan to be out on the water past sunset, make sure all your navigation and running lights are operational. Again, avoid drinking alcohol — it can further impair your senses and visibility.