This is National Safe Boating Week. It’s no coincidence that
boating safety advocates in the U.S. and Canada chose this week for an awareness campaign.
While Florida boaters enjoy the water year-round, places further north
are just beginning their season for boating. Peak times for boating in
most of North America will be from now to Labor Day. After that, the summer
season ends and colder, harsher weather makes boating less attractive.
This year’s theme for National Safe Boating Week is to wear life
jackets. Although many people ditch life jackets on calm days, the reality
is that they can save lives under any conditions. Life jackets are designed
to hold one’s head out of the water to prevent even an unconscious
person from drowning. They also prevent drowning from exhaustion, because
they provide flotation rather than forcing a man overboard to work at
staying afloat until they’re rescued.
Life jackets even make it easier to grab a person and haul them into a
boat. The shoulder straps allow a grab-and-pull maneuver which is impossible
with normal clothing. This is critical, because boaters may only get one
chance to pull someone back aboard in rough conditions.
Another less common but critical piece of safety equipment is an EPIRB,
or emergency position indicating radio beacon. An EPIRB broadcasts a signal
to rescue teams which will lead them to the location of a vessel in distress.
The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are huge bodies of water, and having
an EPIRB signal to follow can mean the difference between being found
quickly and never being found at all.
EPIRBs are relatively inexpensive compared to the vessels which carry them.
An EPIRB typically costs from $300 to $1,000. They are available from
marine suppliers, but also from online suppliers like Amazon. Any boater
who ventures into open water should invest in this potentially life-saving
piece of equipment.
Many Floridians remember the heartbreaking story of Perry Cohen and Austin
Stephanos, the South Florida teenagers who left Jupiter Inlet on July
24, 2015. Even though there was a massive search for them after they disappeared,
they were never found. Their boat was finally recovered in March 2016
off the coast of Bermuda by a cargo ship. A cell phone was found aboard
the vessel; an EPIRB was not.
Another layer of protection is offered by PLBs, or personal locater beacons.
PLBs work like EPIRBs, but are actually worn by boaters like walkie talkies.
PLBs only work for about 24 hours because of their small size, but obviously,
the first 24 hours after any marine mishap are the most critical. Because
they’re worn personally, PLBs are effective even when boaters float
away from their vessel after a mishap. PLBs are cheaper than EPIRBs, and
are usually $400 or less.
The relatively mild weather Americans and Canadians enjoy during the summer
can be deceptive. Weather and seas can still change quickly, and the oceans
and large waterways remain dangerous. Life jackets, EPIRBs, PLBs, and
other safety equipment are well worth the expense, for both the boaters
and the people waiting for them to return to shore.