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Going boating as a family? Safety tips you need to know

That boy is smartly wearing a lifejacket, but shouldn't the man be wearing one, too?

Photo: iStock


National Safe Boating Week is May 18-24, but we agree with Rob Sendak, boating program manager for Washington State Parks: “Boating safety is important twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.”

The Boating Program recommends the following safety tips for boaters:

Get educated: Safety courses are required for some boaters and a good idea for all boaters. Topics include safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. Here's where to find more information about boater education.

Schedule a vessel safety check: Local marine law enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons have examiners who will perform a free safety check. They take 15 to 30 minutes and you'll get help in correcting any deficiencies.  

Always wear a life jacket: State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to have at least one properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard. All children age 12 and younger are always required to wear one. The boating program encourages boaters of all ages to wear their life jackets every time they go out on the water.

Bring communication devices: Boaters should carry two forms of communication that will work when wet, such as a whistle, waterproof cellphone or VHF marine radio to increase the chance of being located in an emergency. Also recommended are flares, a signal mirror and an air horn to aid emergency responders in search efforts.

Avoid alcohol and drugs: Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, is not only unsafe, it’s illegal, and that law applies to law applies to all boats including kayaks, canoes, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts.  The boating program recommends designating a sober skipper. 

Check and understand the weather: Boaters should keep an eye on current conditions and forecasts and check warnings, weather conditions, wind and wave forecasts and tide and current conditions. It’s also important to understand how each of these elements affects a person’s ability to control their vessel. More on that in a good factsheet here.

Protect against cold-water shock: Falling into water under 60 degrees is dangerous, and many of Washington’s waters, including lakes and rivers, remain below 60 degrees even during hot weather. The biggest risk is not hypothermia, it’s cold-water shock, which occurs in the first stage of immersion. Boaters need to take caution and be prepared by always wearing a life jacket.

National Safe Boating Week is coordinated each year by the National Safe Boating Council and partners including the Washington State Boating Program. It is run by Washington State Parks with goals to reduce accidents and fatalities, increase stewardship of Washington waterways, and keep recreational boating a safe, accessible and enjoyable pastime.




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