Coastal areas offer opportunities for boating, kayaking, surfing and other water activities — but with more fun comes more risks.


Coastal areas offer opportunities for boating, kayaking, surfing and other water activities — but with more fun comes more risks.



Be safe while boating



Master Chief Jeremy McConnell, U.S. Coast Guard at Fort Macon, likens boating traffic to road traffic — the more vehicles, the more opportunities for incidents. And just like in the car, there are safety measures that need to be followed on the water, especially since help from emergency services may take longer on water than on land.



“You don’t have the quick response like you would on the roadways,” McConnell said. “That’s why it is important to be cautious on the water.”



In 2014, there were 130 boating accidents in North Carolina, 23 of them fatal, according to a report by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. 



“In this part of the season, it just seems like people have had their boats sitting or docked all winter long and then we have more people that break down in the water,” U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Pate said.



Broken-down boaters will explain to officers their boat was running fine in the fall. But Pate suggests checking the gas tank for old gas and replacing it with fresh gas if needed. He said boaters should take boats on a test run before they go too far out in the water. 



Don’t forget the basics



Anyone in North Carolina born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, is required to complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators approved boating safety course if he wants to operate a vessel propelled by a motor of 10 horse power or greater.



To find certified courses offered for free, visit ncwildlife.org.



Boaters also needs to have a float plan that contains information about where boaters are going, including any planned stops, and when they plan to return, McConnell said. The plan allows authorities to come up with a search strategy and more easily find boaters if an incident occurs. 



“If you don’t come back, it gives us a detailed history of what your intentions were,” McConnell said. 



Boaters should tell someone close to them where they are launching from, where they are going and how many people will be in the boat. They should also write down information about the towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment and emergency contacts. 



“There is nothing more difficult than having a family member call for assistance but they don’t know where that person went,” Chris Huebner, boating safety official for N.C. Wildlife and Fisheries, said. “Family members will call us and say the boater ‘is in a white boat with a black motor,’ but that describes 10,000 people on the water here in the summertime.”



For more information about float plans, visit floatplancentral.org.



Wear a life vest



State law requires that suitable life vests are on board for each passenger. For passengers 12 and under, life vests must be worn anytime the watercraft is in motion or not anchored. Life vests, especially for children, must fit properly. Vests are sized by weight and chest size, said Officer Murphy Hall with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. If the vest is too large or an adult size, the vest may “slide over their head,” McConnell said.  



As a law enforcement officer on the water, Huebner is required to wear his life jacket, but even when boating recreationally he said he wears one too.



“I have seen too many cases come across my desk where if someone would have been wearing a life jacket they may have been saved,” he said.



Life jackets should be readily accessible, but in many cases, whether someone is abruptly knocked off a boat by a wake or they lose their footing and slip, it is too late to put a life jacket on.



“It is not like the movies where the boat slowly starts to fill up with water,” Huebner said. 



The majority of drowning cases he sees were cases in which the victim did not have time to put on a life jacket. So he said it is better to have one on rather than stashed under a seat. 



Don’t swim off the back of the boat



Too many people swim off the back of a boat before they make sure the engine has totally stopped, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.



House and his officers patrolling on boats respond to numerous incidents where a boat passenger kicked a boat prop or had lacerations to his legs and arms from propellers.



“Most of those incidents stem from alcohol,” House said. 



When it comes to operating a boat, being under the influence is not only illegal, but dangerous.



Make sure supplies are on board



Boaters should make sure they are prepared with proper supplies before leaving the pier, McConnell said. He said to make sure you have a life ring you can throw in case someone falls over.



“You are responsible for your safety and your family’s safety,” McConnell said.



Fire extinguishers should also be on-board, especially on vessels with gas motors, Hall said. Cell phones may lose service, battery life or end up in the water so a radio on board the vessel is always a good idea, he added. He suggests a Marine VHF Radio that can contact the Coast Guard and other vessels. 



The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will offer free pre-launch safety inspections randomly at different boat ramps in the area all summer, Hall said. “It’s a more proactive way to interact with the public,” he said. Instead of checking that proper safety measures have been taken after vessels are on the water, the officers are ensuring boater safety prior to launch. Officers will check for things like appropriate-fitting life jackets, working fire extinguishers and valid registration, he said. 



Obey the law



Just like on land, drinking and driving is not permitted.



McConnell said there is a misconception that driving a boat is different than a car when it comes to alcohol use. 



“Operating while impaired on the water is dangerous,” Hall said. 



Drinking two beers on the water is like drinking six beers on land, he said. Dehydration from the sun and alcohol along with other environmental factors cause boat operators to become intoxicated more quickly than they would be if drinking alcohol on land, he added. 



Passengers can drink onboard; however, there should be a designated driver, he said. And remember: Law enforcement will be on patrol on the water this year as well. 



McConnell urges boaters to have fun, enjoy the sport, but be safe. 



Be aware of the sun and surroundings



Not only should boat operators remain vigilant, but they should also be careful with how much they drink, too, Huebner said. He said the effects of alcohol and fatigue are compounded by the direct sunlight boaters get, the vibrations of the boat and recreational activities like fishing and skiing. 



“We try and warn people about those stressors,” he said, adding alcohol, sun and loud engines take a toll on your body and senses. He suggests taking breaks and remaining vigilant, because boaters should be able to defensively watch out for what other boats are doing in the water to stay safe. 



Always check the weather before going out on the water and be vigilant about the “rules of the road” and no wake zones.



Get the app, more information



The U.S. Coast Guard has an app, available on iPhone and Android, that allows users to get information on weather, safety requirements, navigation rules, file a Float Plan and request emergency assistance. 



During an emergency, dial 911. Boaters can also turn to channel 16 on a marine radio. To report a boating accident, call the N. C. Wildlife Resources Commission toll-free at 800-662-7137. For more information on boating laws and safety, visit ncwildlife.org. To download the Coast Guard Boating Safety app, visit uscg.mil/mobile. 



 



Ashley Morris with Wilmington StarNews contributed to this report. 



 



CHECKLIST



Use this boating safety checklist to make sure all required items are on board.



Boater education certificate



Validation decals are displayed



Personal flotation devices for each person on board



Throw rope



Paddle



Bilge pump system or something to remove water from the boat



Working radio



Fire extinguisher



Ignition safety switch



Horn, whistle or bell



Nighttime visual distress signals



Navigation lights