(Aug. 10, 2018) With summer being the season for most boaters and watercraft enthusiasts, local safety and rescue operations have been stressing preparedness and obeying the rules to prevent an idyllic day on the water from turning tragic.
Coast Guard spokesman First Class Petty Officer Andy Kendrick said the essential point is being ready if Mother Nature presents unanticipated circumstances.
“Being out on the water is a dangerous environment,” he said.
Before venturing offshore, boaters should check daily weather forecasts to assure stormfronts are not looming on the horizon, Kendrick said.
“Weather can be a huge factor in safety on the water and it can change very rapidly,” he said.
Kendrick said the Coast Guard coordinates with the Ocean City Beach Patrol to train rookie lifeguards for inlet rescues, as swimmers caught in a rip tides are sometimes swept into the inlet.
Beach Patrol Sgt. Damien Sanzotti said lifeguards also train using three-person watercraft to pick up people involved in water-related accidents.
“We deploy them a handful of times throughout the summer,” he said.
In addition to confirming weather conditions, boaters and others on the water should share their itineraries with friends or family.
“Let other people know what you’re going to do and when you’re going to be back,” Kendrick said. “That will help if you don’t come back when you’re supposed to.”
Odds of survival are significantly increased when rescue teams have some inkling regarding location.
“The ocean is a vast area and it’s truly difficult to find people, especially if we don’t know where to look,” Kendrick said.
Regardless of comfort levels in the water, people should wear life jackets when riding in boats or other vessels, Kendrick said.
“When you’re underway, you can hit something … get ejected [or] knocked unconscious before you enter the water,” he said. “There are lots of things that can happen, and you don’t have a chance if you don’t have a lifejacket on.”
In the event of emergencies while offshore, being able to call for help is critical.
“The Coast Guard operates primarily on channel 16 on VHF radio,” he said. “Your phone isn’t really made for the marine environment. Though it can work, we would urge people to use VHF radio on the water.”
Kendrick also said personal locator beacons (PLBs) can be purchased that can be worn or placed in vessels, with more advanced models incorporating texting technology to contact emergency officials.
Ultimately, Kendrick said any type of sound-producing device, such as whistles and horns, could be a lifesaver.
“There are a number of different things you can use that are low tech to get people’s attention to get help,” he said. “A whistle cost like 50 cents … they’re super cheap and can definitely help save your life.”
Lifeguards, of course, use whistles to communicate at times, especially when personal watercraft venture near shore.
“If somebody was riding a Jet Ski, and they hear the lifeguard whistling at them and pointing out, chances are that means they’re too close to shore,” Sanzotti said.
Following too closely to another Jet Ski is another safety concern, Kendrick said.
“If I’m following directly behind you … and you whip the Jet Ski around to do a donut ... I’m going to T-bone you,” he said. “They’re loud and you probably don’t hear the one behind you.”
Kendrick said another common misconception among novice users of personal watercraft involves the loss of steering when the craft is stationary.
“If you’re just idling, you will not be able to turn,” he said. “You have to have throttle to make it turn.”
Resisting the urge to travel at top speeds when conditions are less than favorable, especially as hurricane season ramps up, greatly reduce the odds of being thrown into the water, Kendrick said.
“The surf is going to start picking up in August and September,” he said. “If you have a day where there are … big chops, you probably won’t be able to go full speed because you’re going to be bouncing all over the place.”