3 Boating Accidents, 3 Dead

Safe Boating is no Accident--YOU are in Command!

Safe Boating is No Accident;
When the author's friend was killed he realized it could happen to any boater.

By Kieth Sutton

It started like many family outings. It ended in tragedy.

The family motored down the lake enjoying a beautiful June day. The kids were riding a jet ski; the grown-ups were alongside in a ski boat enjoying a few beers and wine coolers and shooting video of the happy children.

The accident happened abruptly, unexpectedly. Two girls, ages 11 and 10, were riding the water bike, jumping waves behind the boat. Both were wearing life jackets, but neither was old enough to legally operate the craft.

According to one witness, the girls passed the boat, then cut sharply into its path. The jet ski and boat collided, bow to bow. One girl's father was piloting the boat. Before he could react, his daughter was thrown over the boat's bow, hit the windshield and rolled into the lake. The boat struck the other girl, pushing her beneath the water.

The frightened adults pulled the unconscious children from the water and quickly transported them to a nearby marina. A helicopter and ambulance were dispatched to scene, while rescuers administered CPR to the older girl. Despite efforts to save her, the 11-year-old died that night from severe trauma. Her younger cousin was hospitalized in serious condition and later released.

The fact the young girl died so unnecessarily is terribly disturbing. The fact her parents are partly to blame for the accident compounds the devastation they still feel. More than likely, all involved will always bear the mental scars of this tragedy.

High-Speed Night Anglers

The fish weren't biting much that May afternoon, so the two anglers stayed on the lake a little longer to see if their luck might change. By the time they headed in, darkness had fallen. The boat didn't have running lights, but the men didn't give it much thought. They didn't even bother to post a lookout to watch the waters ahead. The landing wasn't far, and they decided to cover the distance as quickly as possible. It was a fatal decision.

"The two of us started down the lake to go fishing," a man in the second boat reported later.

"A few boats were still out; we could see their lights. We turned our running lights on before leaving the ramp.

"We were running down the lake around 30 miles per hour. Then all at once I could see a boat coming straight for us. It had no lights on and was traveling fast. I immediately turned to the right, but the other boat went the same way. I turned the boat hard back to the left, and at that time, the other boat rammed us."

The collision threw all four men, none of whom was wearing a life jacket, into the water. One boat sank almost immediately. The other ran wildly in circles, threatening to run the men down. A third boat arrived on the scene seconds after the collision. They picked up the three survivors. The driver of the first boat died from internal injuries.

Good Swimmers Drown

There was never any indication of trouble. Then suddenly, for some unexplained reason, the motor caught fire. They'd been water-skiing when it happened: the man, his wife, their two daughters, and a young friend.

The friend had on a life jacket and was in the water, preparing to ski, when the flames erupted. The parents threw the girls into the lake, tossed life jackets to them and jumped in to keep them afloat.

Help came almost immediately. Seeing the fire, two boaters motored quickly to the scene. But for the parents, it was too late. The children were rescued, but their mother and father drowned trying to save them. In the scramble to abandon the boat, the parents, both experienced swimmers, left their own life jackets behind.

Deadly Accidents Occur all of the Time

These three stories are re-creations of three boating accidents reported in recent years. Each story is tragic, but no more so than many other mishaps that could also have been easily prevented. Two people drown when their old boat, a hole in its side, sinks. A party barge operating at night with no lights is struck from behind by another vessel; the barge operator is killed. A man's body is found floating with no life jacket; his blood alcohol content is double the legal limit for highway drivers. A boat sinks when an anchor is thrown out in swift water; no life jackets are in use, and one man dies. A small boat overloaded with six passengers and camping gear capsizes in high water; a 10-year-old boy drowns.

The stories go on and on, a litany of grievous disasters, most of which could have been prevented had someone stopped to consider the results of their inattentive actions.
The 4,969 boating accidents reported in the U.S. in 2005 (the most recent year figures are available) resulted in 697 fatalities, 3,451 injuries and property damage over $40 million.

Too many people fail to realize driving a boat is just as serious as driving a car, and in some ways more dangerous. Automobile drivers have well-defined roads, traffic signals, brakes and seat belts to ensure safe motoring. Boating is much less controlled, multiplying the opportunities for accidents.

More Inexperienced Boaters

Another problem is the number of inexperienced boaters on the water today. Years ago, we didn't have as many boats. And the people who used those boats grew up around them. They learned safe boating when they were young. Today, there are thousands of people on the water who have very little experience with boats. It's not surprising they don't know everything they should about boating safety.

The causes of boating accidents are many, but in almost every case, each was preventable had the boaters followed common sense safety precautions. This is evident when you look at some of the factors most often responsible for boating accidents: excessive speed, no proper lookout, overloading, boating in hazardous waters, alcohol use, faulty equipment, operator inexperience, and operator inattention.

One of the simplest precautions boaters can take is wearing a personal flotation device (PFD), or life jacket, at all times. This includes all passengers, but especially children. Seventy percent of all fatal boating accident victims in 2005 drowned (491 out of 697). Nearly 87 percent of the victims who drowned were not wearing their PFD. Overall, fatal accident data show approximately 420 lives could have been saved that year if boaters had worn their lifejackets.

Boating safety experts also stress the fact that alcohol consumption and boating are a deadly combination. People who wouldn't think of drinking beer all day and driving often think nothing of drinking while piloting a boat. The Coast Guard estimates more than half of all boating fatalities involve alcohol. Each year, the combination of boating and drinking leads to needless injuries and deaths.

    Follow these Safety Tips:

  • Operate a safe, well-equipped boat. Before each outing, check trailer lights, tires, hitches, motors, steering cables, fuel lines, and lights.
  • Equip your craft with a fire extinguisher, horn and paddles, plus tools and spare parts (light bulbs, shear pins, etc.) for equipment repair.
  • Always watch for other boats, swimmers, fishermen, divers, and obstacles in the water. Keep your eyes on the water ahead.
  • Stop before reaching for a drink, a blown-off hat or other objects. Never drive at speeds exceeding safe, reasonable limits. Slow down when making sharp turns. Don't create a hazardous wake when approaching or passing other boats, and use caution when crossing wakes created by other boats.
  • Never overload a boat with equipment or people. Look at the capacity plate on the boat's transom, and stay within that limit.
  • Never boat at night unless your craft is equipped with proper lighting. Check the lights before launching, and carry a flashlight or spotlight for signaling other boats and watching for obstacles.
  • Monitor your fuel supply. Remember the 1/3 rule: 1/3 of your fuel for going, 1/3 for returning, 1/3 for an emergency.
  • Inform others where you plan to go and when you will return, and don't deviate from that plan.
  • Don't allow anyone to stand in the boat or sit on the gunwales or on the decking over the bow while underway.
  • Stay off the water during periods of high wind, fog, or other inclement weather. Check weather forecasts, and watch for signs of change.
  • Don't use a boat in dangerous or off-limits waters at any time. Be especially careful above and below dams and around bridges. Use caution in all unfamiliar waters.
  • When operating a boat, wear a kill switch to stop the engine if you fall or are thrown overboard.
  • Remember the "rules of the road" when on the water. When meeting another boat, pass on the right just as you would when driving a car. Keep to the right in narrow channels, beware when rounding bends, and maintain a safe distance when overtaking and passing other boats. Powerboats must yield to sailboats.
  • Use care when refueling your craft. Ventilate your boat after fueling. Open any hatches, run the blower, and carefully sniff for gas fumes in the fuel and engine areas before starting your engine. Never tamper with backfire flame arrestors or other safety equipment on the motor. Experienced mechanics should make equipment repairs.
  • Improper anchoring can cause a boat to capsize. Don't anchor in swift or exceedingly choppy waters. Use a quick-release hitch or tie that allows you to drop the anchor immediately in case of emergency.
  • Be extremely careful when motoring into the sun, and don't let passengers block your view.
  • Beware of objects ahead until your boat planes out and you can see in front of you.
  • Be certain your motor is out of gear before starting it.
  • Hypothermia is not Hypothetical

    Hunters and other cold-weather boaters must be especially conscious of boating safety, because a spill in frigid water can lead to death from hypothermia. In addition to other safety precautions, avoid wearing hip boots or waders when traveling to and from a hunting area. Bring along extra clothing in case you fall while putting out decoys or retrieving game. Be especially mindful to put the drain plug in your boat before launching.

    When fishing, stay clear of boat channels; watch the water and traffic ahead when trolling; and always wear a life jacket when running nets and trotlines and retrieving tangled lures. You could fall overboard if the boat becomes unbalanced.

    When skiing, have at least two people in the boat: one to drive, one to watch the skier. Skiers should always maintain a safe distance from the turning propeller.

    When canoeing, stay upstream of your craft should it capsize to avoid being pinned against downstream obstacles. Know your limitations, and avoid canoeing on unsafe waters.
    In many states, children must reach a certain age before they can legally operate a personal watercraft. For your children's sake, abide by that law. Don't allow operators to jump wakes, play "chicken" or engage in other unsafe horseplay.

    Finally, consider enrolling in a boating safety course. A boater who has successfully completed one of these classes will be a much safer and more courteous boater.

    The U.S. Coast Guard and many state wildlife agencies offer free boating education classes. In some states, boating education is mandatory, or will become mandatory for certain age classes of boaters in the near future. In these states, people will have to carry proof that they have completed a certified education course in order to legally operate a boat. For information on classes in your area, contact the boating safety section of your state wildlife agency or the nearest office of the U.S. Coast Guard.

    It's important that all of us learn and follow the rules of boating safety. In this day and age, with more and more boaters on the water, frightening accidents, including many unnecessary fatalities, happen with increasing frequency. Most of them shouldn't have happened at all. They occur due to carelessness, a lackadaisical attitude, inattention, or just plain poor judgment.

    Please, this year, when you're on the water fishing or simply enjoying a pleasant afternoon boat ride, wear a life jacket and be attentive to all the rules of boating safety. Your life, and the lives of others, depends on it.

      Choose the Right Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

  • Life jackets, or personal flotation devices, are placed into five basic categories-Type I, II, II, IV, and V. PFD manufacturers are required by law to include a label, usually inside the back collar, identifying classification.
  • Type I PFDs are the most buoyant, designed to turn unconscious wearers in the water to a face-up position. They are effective for all waters and the most highly recommended for children.
  • Type II PFDs will turn some unconscious wearers face-up but only under limited conditions. They are intended for calm, inland waters or where there's a good chance of quick rescue.
  • Type III PFDs are flotation aids only and cannot turn an unconscious wearer face-up without assistance. Hunting float coats and fishing vests are examples of this type.
  • Type IV PFDs are throwable devices not designed to be worn. They should be used only in situations where help is always present. Type IV devices include buoyant cushions and ring buoys.
  • Type V PFDs, which inflate automatically, are made only for special uses or conditions. Varieties include boardsailing vests, deck suits, work suits and others. They are required to be worn to be counted as a regulation PFD.

    BoatTEST.com recommends that you print out this article and give it to everyone you boat with to help drive home the necessity of being careful on the water and of wearing a PFD.