The excitement over summer's approach sometimes involves the anticipation of invitations from boat-owning friends for a weekend of fishing and cruising aboard everything from compact fishing skiffs to sailing yachts. Our region is rich in recreational waterways and includes two major bays, rivers and lakes. We can measure in minutes the driving time to a boating port. Most of the boating opportunities for guests will be aboard privately owned craft. While the idea is to have fun, it's still a good idea to be aware of the potential for danger. – Jay Lloyd
Before you go, check on the marine forecast for your destination waterway. The National Weather Service webpage offers comprehensive coverage for the entire country, the off-shore waters and high seas. Just navigate here. Then, pick the link that leads to your destination. If the forecast indicates high winds and seas or storm conditions, talk to your host about his/her intentions. Don't be embarrassed to decline the invitation.
Pilots are required to file "flight plans," but there is no requirement for a private boat owner to file a "float plan." Some do it by advising their marina or a family member of where they plan to go and when they expect to return. Most, unfortunately, don't. If the boat becomes disabled or worse, and the skipper is unable to get an emergency message out, search crews have no idea where or when to start looking. Ask your host where you'll be going, then advise a family member or friend of your own about the plans.
THE LIFE JACKET
As a young Coast Guardsman, I was taught how to fashion a life jacket from my pants while in the water trying to get away from a burning ship. It took a lot of youthful stamina. Of course, boat owners are required to carry life jackets and no one is expected to improvise with soggy trousers. When going aboard, make sure you know where the life jackets are stored. And just remember that a high percentage of boating fatalities are the result of collisions: When hulls collide without warning, it's often too late to find your life jacket. Keep it with you or -- even better -- wear it.
ONE TOO MANY
When one more friend shows up at the dock and the skipper just can't say no, a small boat can become dangerously overloaded. It might be no more than a comfort problem unless the weather turns wicked. In that case, you don't want to be around. As Richard Dreyfuss famously observed, "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Give up your spot and walk away if you don't feel comfortable.
ANOTHER ONE TOO MANY
Alcohol, combined with sun and the motion of a boat, is a dangerous combination. A good rule of thumb is that anyone involved in the operation of the craft should forget about that beer until the boat is safely docked. Unless there's a professional captain and crew aboard, consider yourself part of the operation as a guest.
Sailors are well aware of the dangers of flying booms and straining lines and instinctively avoid them. Guests aboard sailboats often do not. The lines that control sails will suddenly spring taut under a thousand or more pounds of pressure. A limb caught in a loop when that happens will not be happy. A sudden change of wind or boat direction can cause the boom that anchors the main sail to wildly swing from one side of the boat to the other. Many boaters have been swept overboard with a dented skull by failing to duck. Always keep your head below the boom.
The suggestions here were generated by the stories of Coast Guard shipmates who have witnessed and worked on cases in which failure to follow these and other common sense concepts resulted in death, injury and an altogether really bad end to what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend.
Keep these tips in mind, and get out there and have fun!
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