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Life Vests Save Lives

Americans heading out for a summer-day sail could find themselves in hot water if they don't take proper safety precautions.

The Coast Guard says most boating mishaps are caused by operator error and not by the boat, equipment, or environmental factors.

Aboard one of the ships docked in the North Cove Marina in New York's Battery Park, Lt. Justin Peters, commanding officer of Station New York with the U.S. Coast Guard, shows The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler how to keep safe on the water.

The following are the main safety points the Coast Guard stresses to prevent accidents:

  1. Wear a life jacket. In 2003, 703 people died from boating related deaths. Of those, 576 victims were not wearing life jackets.
  2. Do not boat under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol was involved in 40 percent of boating fatalities.
  3. Take a safe boating course. Click here for Web sites with information about where you can take the course.
  4. Get a Vessel Safety Check. A lot of Coast Guard stations and organizations will come and go through your boat. They will take a look to make sure you have the necessary safety equipment, and that it's Coast Guard approved. Click here for more information on how you can get one.
Since a majority of people who die each year from boating aren't wearing life jackets, Peters points out everyone on board must have a jacket that is properly sized and approved. He says, "There are several types. The most common one looks like a vest. You usually see people wear them while jet skiing. The other common one is the orange horseshoe (that goes over your head)."

According to the Coast Guard, life jackets save lives when you are:

  • Capsized in rough water.
  • Sinking in unexpectedly heavy sea conditions.
  • Thrown from the boat as a result of a collision.
  • Injured by rocks or submerged objects.
  • Unconscious from carbon monoxide fumes.
  • Tossed into freezing water.
  • Thrown off balance while fishing.
  • Unable to swim because of heavy or waterlogged clothing.

As for the type of clothing you should wear when boating, Peters says it is important to stay warm and dry so bring extra clothes.

He explains, "You should go along with warm clothing in case the boat breaks down. At night, the temperature drops quickly. The water here (in New York) is cold year round. You should have warm clothes, too, if you are getting sprayed with water from choppy waves. You should also bring sun block, water, food, and safety items."

Peters points out one of the things most inexperienced boaters don't realize is that it takes a long time to get places. Many don't bring enough food and water for the journey, and not enough fuel to get them out and back safely.

He says, "You don't travel as fast as a car. One hour in a car takes two to three in a boat. People think they will be out a few hours and they'll be back in the afternoon, but it may be evening by the time they get back. If they break down or have trouble, it takes longer. Bring water and plan on drinking as much as you would if you were going to the beach."

If your are going out on a boat between 16 and 26 feet, the size most civilians own, you need to take along these supplies and safety items:

  1. Personal flotation device - Have enough for everyone on board
  2. Throwable flotation device - Such as life ring and seat cushion
  3. Fire extinguisher - At least one
  4. Distress signals - Flare kits that have a day and night flare combination (some work better at night) ie: flare at night vs. smoke in the day
  5. Something that will make a loud sound – Examples: air horn or whistle to be used in distress. If it's foggy out, flares won't work.

It also is good to have a cell phone on board, Peters says. The best way to communicate with land is on a VHF radio, which can be purchased at any boating store.

He explains channel 16 is the international hailing and distress frequency. "That's where you put out a mayday call. Every major commercial boat and law enforcement monitors it. So if you are out of range of cell phone, you are still in range with other vessels over channel 16," Peters says.

And prior to heading out on your boat, Peters suggests filing a float plan with the local marina, family or friend.

He explains, "You just need to say we're going out; there are 4 of us; we'll be back around 5 p.m. It will give someone means to check up on you. You can call when you get back safely."

Here are a few top homeland security boating tips:

  • Observe and avoid all security zones.
  • Avoid commercial port operation areas, especially military, cruise line, or petroleum facilities.
  • Keep your distance from all military, cruise line, or commercial shipping.
  • Do not approach within 100 yards, and slow to a minimum speed within 500 yards of any U.S. Naval vessel. Violators of the Navel Vessel Protection Zone face up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
  • Do not stop or anchor beneath bridges or in the channel.
  • Keep a sharp lookout and report all unusual sightings to local and Coast Guard authorities.

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