The Risks of Reckless Boating


Healthy Living – May 30, 2017
Anthony Tannous, MD, Eastern Maine Medical Center
Tannous.jpgThe weather is getting nicer and Mainers all over the state are starting to take out their boats and enjoy the beautiful waters that our beautiful New England nature has to offer. This is possibly one of the most enjoyable nice weather activities. It can however take a dramatic turn if one doesn’t follow some basic safety tips that would keep you out of harm’s way and away from the emergency rooms. New boat owners are at particular risk and should take extra precautions. Every year, the US Coast Guard issues a boating statistics report covering boating injuries and in 2015 they noted 4,158 accidents, 2,613 injuries and 626 fatalities with 76 percent of fatalities caused by drowning.

Always check the weather before taking your boat out. It can be fickle around this time of year with cloudy surprises and unwelcome winds. Practice safe boating which includes always keeping a safe speed, staying away from large vessels and respecting buoys which have been placed for your navigational safety.

Assign an assistant skipper. The captain of the boat should not be the only person on board familiar with the maintenance and operation of that boat, in case he or she is incapacitated by an accident. Someone else should be able to get everyone back safely to shore.  And let someone who is not on the boat know your float plan including your means of communication, your passengers’ names and your itinerary. And don’t overload your boat.  

Make sure you have enough life jackets for all your passengers and of appropriate sizes. Preferably, everyone should be wearing their life jackets at all times as it is estimated that they prevent about 80 percent of boating injuries. It may not be possible to reach out for them during a high speed accident. You want to also make sure that all your passengers know how to swim, 85 percent of drowning victims in 2015 were not found to be wearing life jackets. Swimming lessons are offered by local organizations pretty much everywhere for all ages.

I have talked about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in the past and you are at risk while on a motorized boat. Learn about the places where carbon monoxide could accumulate on your boat and how to best maintain your boat to prevent it.

Beginner boaters should take a boating course, 71 percent of 2015 deaths occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction. Most states will require that from anyone planning to operate a boat. And have your boat’s safety checked by the US Coast Guard through a complimentary free vessel safety check. They can provide a specialist to check your boat and give some very useful boating tips. Use the following website to request a vessel safety check:

Last but not least, don’t operate a boat under the effect of alcohol or any other substance. Leave the partying for the shore. Statistics show that alcohol doubles the likelihood of boating accidents. I have seen some happy celebrations cut tragically short because people lost track of these basic safety rules. Stay wise and enjoy the water.