Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of the summer vacation season, is bound to draw a sizable boating crowd to local waters, as good weather beckons and it’s back to school and work in the week that follows.
The possibility of a flotilla of recreational craft on the bays on Saturday and Sunday, however, also increases the need for operators to exercise caution with regard to everyone and everything around them. That would include their own personal conduct as well.
Among the top reasons for boating accidents, according to the Coast Guard’s 2018 year-end report, are operator inattention, operator inexperience and excessive speed. But the leading reason for the 633 boating fatalities and the estimated $46 million in property damage last year, the Coast Guard found, was alcohol consumption.
Even the most able captain is a menace if he or she is drunk or impaired. Knowing what to do isn’t much good if the hand on the helm is unsteady and slow to react.
But not only does being a good captain require that individual to be sober and alert, it also means having to enforce rules that don’t necessarily correspond to the free-for-all attitude some passengers will bring on board with them.
Wearing life jackets is one such rule. According to the Coast Guard’s annual statistics, drowning was the cause of death in 77 percent of last year’s fatal boating accidents, and of that total 84 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.
It’s also important that someone help the operator keep an eye on the water, all the water, as in what’s approaching from the stern and from either side. Maintaining that lookout is even more critical in boats with numerous passengers who invariably will obstruct the operator’s view.
Boating is meant to be fun, but the rules of the road and safety still apply. The one thing everyone wants from this last outing of the vacation season is a safe return to port, followed by the return of everyone to these waters next year. What no one wants is for this weekend’s trip to be someone’s last outing ever.