The nation's birthday is traditionally the busiest boating time of the year as thousands of boaters converge for local fireworks displays, family cruises, or other on-the-water activities. But the towing arm of BoatU.S., the country's largest boat owners association, says that unlike traditional, three-day July 4th holiday periods, waterway traffic from Friday, June 30 to Tuesday, July 4th is expected to be more spread out and not concentrated on one or two days.
However, this still means that about 4,000 recreational boaters are expected to call the association's 24-hour TowBoatU.S. and Vessel Assist dispatch centers to request on-the-water assistance during this five-day holiday period. The two towing operations provide assistance to boaters such as tows back to port, fuel drop offs or battery jump starts.
Requests for on-the-water assistance to dispatch centers in Virginia and California have traditionally been a reliable indicator of recreational boating volume on the nation's waterways. Jerry Cardarelli, Vice President of BoatU.S. Towing Services said, "With waterfront town fireworks displays on different dates and the varied vacation schedules of boaters, there will probably be less congestion on the Fourth. But it's still going to be pretty busy out there navigating your way home in the dark and we caution all boaters not to let their guard down," he added.
In addition, Cardarelli notes that while fuel prices may have had an impact on weekday and offshore boating patterns, this won't be a factor on July 4th. "If it is anything like Memorial Day - which was the second busiest period for recreational boating traffic - boaters won't be too worried about gas prices." There were over 3,000 calls for TowBoatU.S. and Vessel Assist over the three-day Memorial Day holiday period.
Cardarelli says that that about half of all calls for assistance are classified as general engine failures, followed by soft ungroundings, dead batteries and running out of fuel. Accidentally entangling some other boat's anchor line is also common at fireworks shows, as there is often little wiggle room to maneuver.
Having a safe July 4th ultimately rests with the boat's operator. That advice is echoed by Ruth Wood, BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water President. "Boating stress factors such as fatigue and long exposure to the sun will increase alcohol's effect on the body, so if you want to have a post fireworks drink, wait until you and your crew get home," says Wood.
Wood recommends that boaters brush up their boating skills before going out on July 4th by going to the Foundation's free online "Boater's Toolbox" (http://www.BoatUS.com/foundation/toolbox). "There's no easier way to learn how to cope with holiday traffic than by reviewing the Toolbox's animated, rules of the road section before you head out. It easily and clearly shows how to avoid collisions, safely overtake another vessel or operate in a narrow channel - common maneuvers on boating's busiest day of the year," Wood added. Some of the Toolbox's 15 educational sections include information on the dangers of Carbon Monoxide, tips on Litter Prevention, Clean Fueling and more.
Wood also adds, "Accidents happen very quickly -- it's often too late to put on a life jacket after a mishap. So, we recommend everyone wear one -- especially while heading home after the fireworks."
To help prevent becoming a statistic, Cardarelli and Wood have these additional tips:
- For some boaters this is the one time a year they will operate at night, so ensure all navigation lights work before you go. Bring an extra flashlight with spare batteries. Also make sure everyone aboard can use the VHF radio and that safety gear is readily available.
- Many boaters will go out early and raft up all day long running fans, sound systems or other appliances. Having a self-contained battery jump-pack on board could also help.
- For trailer boaters, the two biggest causes for trailer breakdowns are flat tires and locked bearings so check both before you go, and have a complete spare tire - inflated on the rim - available. Also stop along the way periodically to check your rig.
- Take your time, have patience and don't rush home after the fireworks show. Don't take shortcuts and post extra lookouts with a spotlight.