Submitted by the Washington State Parks
Now that restrictions on outdoor recreation have eased, spring fishing and boating can finally get underway. Every May, the National Safe Boating Week campaign reminds boaters and paddlers about the importance of safe boating.
According to Washington’s recreational boating accident data, in the last five years, trends show most accidents and fatalities happen between May and August, and 75 percent of fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket. The Boating Program recommends the following safety tips:
Many recreational boaters in Washington must take an approved boating safety education course and carry a Washington State Boater Education Card. All boaters and paddlers are responsible for knowing the laws and keeping themselves and others safe. The Boating Program recommends boating safety courses even for those boaters who don’t have to carry the card. More information about boater education: www.boatered.org.
Conduct a (virtual) vessel safety check
Local marine law enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons typically have certified vessel examiners who perform free vessel safety checks. However, during this time of social distancing, an online virtual vessel safety check option is available.
Always wear a life jacket
State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to have at least one properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard. All children, age 12 and younger must wear one at all times.
Bring communication devices
Boaters should carry two forms of communication that will work when wet, such as a whistle, waterproof cell phone or VHF marine radio. These devices greatly increase the chance of being found in an emergency. Recommended equipment includes flares, a signal mirror and an air horn to aid emergency responders in search efforts. Boaters should also consider carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB), which instantly notifies responders of their location when activated.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Boat owners and/or operators are responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone on board. Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, is not only unsafe — it’s illegal. The Boating Program recommends designating a sober skipper. Washington state’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law applies to all boats including kayaks, canoes, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts. More about boating sober: www.boatsober.org.
Check and understand the weather
Boaters should check warnings, weather conditions, wind and wave forecasts, tides and current conditions. National Weather Service (NOAA Weather Radio) broadcasts can be found on marine band and standalone weather radios.
Protect against cold-water shock
A fall into water under 60 degrees is dangerous, and many of Washington’s waters remain below 60 degrees year-round — including lakes and rivers — even during hot weather. The biggest risk is not hypothermia, it’s cold-water shock, which occurs in the first stage of immersion. Boaters need to take caution and prepare themselves by always wearing a life jacket, especially when operating boats under 21 feet.