The busiest boating time of the year is nearly here, the July 4th holiday. Harbors, bays and rivers will soon be brimming with vacationing boaters, vessels will flock to waterfront fireworks shows, and busy marinas and launch ramps will all contribute to recreational boating's own form of waterway rush hour.
According to the largest on-the-water towing fleet in North America, TowBoatU.S. and Vessel Assist, over 3,800 boaters across the U.S. are expected to call for on-the-water assistance during the holiday week - more than any other time of the year.
The towing fleet and the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety have teamed up to offer ten tips on how to avoid mishaps this July 4th:
It's a long day: A full day in the in sun will increase alcohol's effects on the body, so it's better to wait until you're safely back at the dock or home before breaking out the libations. Also bring lots of water, a VHF radio, and check the weather reports to avoid storms.
It's a long day, for the boat, too: As the firework shows end, like clockwork the TowBoatU.S. and Vessel Assist call center switchboards light up like a Christmas tree with hundreds of boaters needing jump starts. Running electronics all day such as sound systems, fans, or other appliances and failing to monitor battery usage could leave your boat dead in the water when it's time to go home.
Running the engine to charge the batteries: Raft-ups, or groups of boats tied together in a protected anchorage, is a great way to spend the holiday with fellow boating friends. But you should never run an engine with swimmers in the water or near exhaust ports. Even though the boat's transmission may not be in gear, propellers can still rotate, and odorless, colorless Carbon Monoxide can quickly overcome swimmers.
Trailer problems: The BoatU.S. Trailering Club reports that flat tires and burnt bearings are the two biggest causes for boat trailer breakdowns. What shape are yours in? If you'd like to post a question about maintaining your trailer, go to http://www.BoatUS.com/trailerchat
Don't overload your boat: Capsizing and falls overboard account for over half of all boating fatalities. Resist the urge to invite more friends or family to the fireworks show than what your boat was designed to carry. Heavily loaded small boats, and those with little freeboard such as bass boats, are more susceptible to swamping from weather or wake action associated with heavy July 4th boating traffic.
Wear life jackets: 70% of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, 87% were not wearing a life jacket. Accidents can happen very quickly, sometimes leaving no time to don a life jacket.
Follow the rules of the road: If a boat is approaching your vessel from your starboard (right) side, do you know what to do? What happens when a light on another vessel "changes" from red to green? These answers can be found in the rules of the road section at BoatU.S. Foundation's free online "Boater's Toolbox," at http://www.BoatUS.com/foundation/toolbox Brush up now before you head out.
Patience: The lines at boat launch ramps - in the parking lot or the water - can resemble a Southern California freeway at rush hour. Be patient, ready to go when it's your turn, and follow good boating etiquette.
Take your time to get home: July 4th is the one time a year many fair-weather boaters - who may rarely navigate in the dark - venture out after the sun goes down. The most reported type of boating accident is a collision with another vessel so it's a good idea to keep your speed down, post an extra lookout, and ensure all your navigation lights work. A spotlight is a must, and ensure all safety gear is readily available. Be extra vigilant about not running over anchor lines in crowded fireworks viewing areas, and don't take shortcuts in the dark.
Celebrate: Hey, its America's birthday and you're on the water! Be safe, be prepared and have fun!