Boat safety tips
Whether you’re on a powerboat, sailboat or canoe, spending time on the water can be a fun and relaxing way to enjoy the summer weather with family and friends. But with more than 750 deaths and close to 3,000 injuries each year from recreational boating accidents, it’s important to remember that it also can be a dangerous activity.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boating fatalities jumped 12.8 percent in 2011 and are now at the highest level since 1998. Seventy percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, 84 percent were reported as not wearing a life jacket.
“Actively supervising children in and around the water, using the appropriate safety devices, learning water safety skills, and knowing what to do in an emergency may prevent a boating-related drowning,” says Bevin Maynard, a water safety expert at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.
Before you plan your summer fun on the water, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital reminds parents to keep kids safe by following these simple steps.
- Make sure everyone always wears a life jacket. Life jackets should fit snugly and keep the child’s head above water. Make sure the life jacket is appropriate for the child’s size and weight and is properly fastened. Quick Check: Put the life jacket on the child and have the child make a “touchdown” signal with arms raised. If the neck opening of the life jacket comes over the child’s chin or ears, it may be too big or the straps may be too loose. “Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to try and put on a stowed life jacket, and it won’t save you or your child’s life unless it’s being worn,” Maynard says.
- Take a boating safety course. Make sure the boat operator has passed a boating safety course approved by the U.S. Coast Guard before your family climbs on board.
- Encourage everyone to learn how to swim. Enroll children in swim lessons taught by a certified instructor when they are ready. Knowing how to swim does not prevent drowning, but it is an important skill for both children and adults to learn. Maynard adds, “Never assume your child is drown-proof after completing swim lessons; he or she still needs constant supervision.”
- Only swim in designated swimming areas. Swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool. Be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather. It also is difficult to know how deep the water is or what might be hidden under the surface.
- Always supervise children when they are around water. Designate a “Water Watcher” – a responsible adult who is in charge of watching children while they are in or near water. This adult should not be distracted by phone calls, text messages, reading or talking to others. For information on how to get a free Water Watcher whistle, contact St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Safety Store at 813-554-8510.
- Learn CPR and know how to use rescue equipment. These are important skills to know if there is an emergency. “Performing CPR on drowning victims immediately may prevent brain damage and be the difference between life and death,” Maynard says.
- Do not let children operate or ride on personal watercrafts such as jet skis. These are intended for adults and require special training.
- Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Know where and how it may accumulate around your boat, and install a detector to alert you to dangerous levels of exhaust fumes.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages. Never drink while boating — a large portion of boating accidents each year involve alcohol consumption by both boat operators and passengers.
For more information on boating safety, or to sign up for an upcoming CPR class at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, visit www.stjosephschildrens.com.