Safe Boating Week: May 18-24

Posted at 10:35 a.m.

The National Weather Service has partnered with the National Safe Boating Council to help promote Safe Boating Week, May 18-24. Remember the following tips this year while enjoying being on the water.

Vessel Safety Checks

This boating season, make sure that you take advantage of the Vessel Safety Check (VSC), program – a free, no risk, service provided in your area by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadrons. A qualified vessel examiner will conduct an inspection of all the required safety equipment carried or installed on a vessel and certain aspects of the vessel’s overall condition. Even if you pay careful attention to safety, dangerous mechanical problems can crop up on the best-maintained boat. That’s why the U.S. Coast Guard recommends that all recreational boats (including personal watercraft) get a free VSC each year.

A VSC is your best way of learning about conditions that might put you in violation of state or federal laws or, worse, create an unsafe condition for you or your passengers on the water. If the vessel meets all requirements, the examiner will award a Vessel Safety Check decal. If your vessel fails to receive a VSC decal, no law enforcement action is taken and the examiner will provide a list of items for correction.

Life Jackets

Before you and your family get out on the water this year, grab a life jacket and “Wear It!” Nearly 85 percent of those who drown while boating were not wearing a life jacket.

Wearing a life jacket is one of the most effective and simple life-saving strategies for safe recreational boating. Boaters are required to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board for every passenger on their vessel.

Today’s life jackets are available in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They are comfortable, lightweight, and perfect for any boating activity.

The most important thing to remember: Grab a life jacket and “Wear It!”

Safe Boating Week, May 18-24, 2013

Marine Forecast

Understanding a marine forecast is critical to safe boating. Weather and wave conditions can change suddenly, catching boaters off guard and creating life threatening conditions. Before setting out, obtain the latest marine forecast and warning information from www.weather.gov/marine or on a NOAA Weather Radio.

Typical marine forecasts predict wind speed and direction, wave heights and periods, roughness of near shore waters, and significant weather. Marine forecasts cover large areas and the forecast elements are often given in ranges. The significant weather may not occur over the entire area or during the entire forecast period. The ranges represent average conditions over a period of time (usually 12 hours) and the actual conditions may be lower or higher than the forecast range. Boaters should plan for conditions above and below the predicted ranges.

Take particular note of any current advisories and warnings, including Small Craft Advisories, Gale or Storm Warnings which alert mariners to either high winds or waves occurring now or forecast to occur up to 24 hours from now. Special Marine Warnings are issued for sudden increase in winds to over 35 knots (40 mph), waterspouts (tornadoes over water), and hail of 3/4 inches or greater and indicate a more immediate threat. Marine weather statements bring attention to significant rapidly changing conditions on the water including increase in winds, non severe thunderstorms, development of dense fog and even snow squalls or strong and gusty rain showers.

You should have a marine VHF transceiver with built-in NOAA Weather Radio channels. If you venture beyond about a 25 nautical mile range from shore, you should consider buying a good quality HF single sideband transceiver and satellite phone.

Thunderstorm Safety

Thunderstorms can be a mariner’s worst nightmare. They can develop quickly and create dangerous wind and wave conditions. Thunderstorms can bring shifting and gusty winds, lightning, waterspouts, and torrential downpours which can turn a day’s pleasure into a nightmare of distress.

There are no specific warnings or advisories for lightning but all thunderstorms produce lightning. A lightning strike to a vessel can be catastrophic, especially if it results in a fire or loss of electronics. If your boat has a cabin, then stay inside and avoid touching metal or electrical devices. If your boat doesn’t have a cabin, stay as low as you can in the boat.

Boaters should use extra caution when thunderstorm conditions exist and have a plan of escape. Mariners are especially vulnerable as at times they may unable to reach port quickly. It is therefore strongly recommended you do not venture out if thunderstorms are a possibility. If you do venture out and recognize thunderstorms nearby, head to port or safe shelter as quickly as possible. Ultimately, boating safety begins ashore with planning and training. Keep in mind that thunderstorms are usually brief so waiting it out is better than riding it out.

For more on safe boating, visit www.nws.noaa.gov/os/marine/safeboating/ or www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/.

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