North Carolina has experienced a surge in boating accidents and fatalities. In 2018, boating accidents claimed 35 lives, triple that of the previous year. That total equates to the most boating-related deaths since 1990. Many would think alcohol is the most likely culprit for the surprising increase, but that is not the case. The main cause of boating accidents is seemingly more innocent than drinking while boating, but just as dangerous.
Why Has the Number of Boating Fatalities Skyrocketed?
While alcohol played a part in 6 of the 35 deaths, the main cause of accidents was distracted driving. It is easy to become distracted while on the water by friends, fishing, towing skiers, and much more. The risk is further compounded when boaters do not wear life jackets. In addition to the relaxed atmosphere, sun exposure can leave people feeling drowsy and dazed. Boaters need to ensure they are paying attention, drinking enough water, and staying cool.
How Can I Keep My Family Safe While Boating?
There are several things families and friends can do to ensure their safety while boating. Here is some advice to help keep a day of fun from turning into a tragedy:
Wear a Life Vest!!
Aside from avoiding an accident altogether, wearing a life vest is the number one way to prevent accidental drownings or deaths from boating accidents. Out of the 35 deaths last year, 23 of the victims weren’t wearing life jackets. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if everyone on the boat had worn life vests.
Life jackets are equivalent to seatbelts in cars. You wouldn’t put your child in a car without buckling them, would you? And hopefully, you wouldn’t ride in a car without a seatbelt either. Boaters need to have the same safety mentality when it comes to boats. Every person, whether they are a child, adult, or Olympic swimmer, needs to put on a well-fitted life jacket before getting in the boat. You wouldn’t drive off in a car without seatbelts, so you shouldn’t drive away from the dock without life vests either.
Life Vests save lives. The North Carolina Wildlife Commission has launched the Preserve Your Life campaign to spread the word.
When driving a boat, there are no yellow lines to signify lanes or street signs to instruct traffic. It is easy for boat drivers to take open water for granted only to find themselves colliding with another boat or stationary object. Stay focused! Constantly scan the area around you to spot other boaters and hazards. Always check for other boaters before turning and frequently look behind you to keep track of other boaters.
Designate a Spotter
Designate another passenger in the boat as a spotter. A spotter’s job is to remain in the front of the boat where they can constantly keep an eye out for other boaters or obstructions. This person must be old enough to take their responsibility seriously and not become distracted. Every time the spotter sees another boat or object, they must point it out to the driver even if the driver most likely sees it themselves. Spotters can rotate in shifts throughout the day. Another pair of eyes can be priceless while boating because they can help prevent accidents from happening in the first place.
Take a Boating Course
People who are going to drive the boat have a huge responsibility to keep themselves, their passengers, and other boaters safe. In North Carolina, any person born on or after January 1, 1988, must complete a NASBLA approved boating education course before operating any vessel propelled by a motor of 10 HP or greater on public waterways. G.S. 75A-16.2
Boat drivers who are not properly trained are at a greater risk of causing harm and being legally liable for personal injury and property damage claims. Don’t risk it. Complete the proper training, keep your certificate in your boat, and a copy in your files at home.
Follow a Pre-Departure Safety Checklist
Following a pre-departure boating checklist is a helpful way to make sure the boat is in a safe condition, and all the proper gear is onboard. Here are some basics to check off your list before you launch your boat:
- Do you have at least one well-fitted life vest for every passenger? Does everyone know how to put them on properly?
- Do you have a working horn, bell or portable air horn?
- Is there an up-to-date fire extinguisher on board?
- Are the navigation and instrument lights working?
- Do you have distress signals onboard, such as flares or an orange flag?
- Do you have a basic toolbox with appropriate tools and spares, including a hull plug?
- Do you have enough fuel and oil?
The above checklist is not comprehensive and is only meant as a rough guide. It is recommended you search for a pre-departure checklist for your particular watercraft.
Bring Plenty of Water and Sunscreen
Being out on the water and in the sun makes people susceptible to heat exhaustion. Be sure to bring plenty of drinking water. Encourage passengers to wear hats and to periodically cool off by sitting in the shade or taking a dip in the water. If anyone on the boat starts to feel light-headed or lethargic, shade them from the sun, give them water to drink, and wrap them in a wet towel. Drive them to shore and seek medical attention.
Prolonged sun exposure can lead to severe sunburns. It is important to remember that ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds. So, even on cloudy days, everyone should wear sunscreen and reapply as directed. Sunburns are not only painful, but they are dangerous. Excessive sun exposure and sunburns can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., and the number of cases continues to rise.
Conclusion: Have Fun & Stay Safe While Boating
Enjoying the day on the water with family and friends is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But boaters must consider the risks and take safety precautions to keep a perfect day from turning into a nightmare. Boat drivers must obey the laws of boating and be properly prepared before entering the water.
If you or a loved one have been involved in a boating accident in North Carolina, contact us today for a free legal consultation.