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5 Springtime Boat Safety Tips

Man snow blowing his walk.

Don’t let a fun afternoon on the water turn dangerous! As warmer springtime temperatures and longer daylight hours bring more folks out onto lakes and rivers, the risk for boating accidents increases, too. Springtime water temperatures tend to be colder than in the summer, so an accidental misstep or capsize could leave you and your loved ones with just minutes to get to safety. Help protect yourself with these helpful tips:

1. Inspect your boat.

Running out of fuel and having a bad battery are two common reasons why boats become stranded on the water according to Boating Magazine. Even if you’ve completed a pre-season boat tune-up, set aside a few extra minutes to give your boat a quick inspection before heading out onto the water. Ensure you have a full tank, your battery is holding a full charge, your bilge pump is properly working, and your drain plug is secured.

2. Safely load and unload your boat.

Don’t fall overboard before you’ve left the harbor! Exercise caution when carrying heavy or bulky loads onto your boat. The BoatUS Foundation recommends handing off items between friends on the dock and the boat to load everything safely. Watch your weight limit; overloading your boat with excess gear or surpassing the passenger limit could increase the risk for capsizing. Not sure about your boat’s capacity? Check the capacity plate located near the boat operators position.

3. Follow the “one passenger, one life jacket” rule.

More than two-thirds of all boating fatalities are drowning incidents and 90% of these victims were not wearing a life jacket, reports the BoatUS Foundation. Carry a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. For safety’s sake, wear your life jacket when onboard at all times and remember that all children under the age of 13 are required to wear a life jacket, however, be sure to check your state guidelines and specifics as it may vary. If you find your current life jacket uncomfortable to wear, buy a new one that’s appropriate for your boating activities and water conditions. In addition to your life jacket, use and maintain the proper safety equipment: have a fire extinguisher on board; have operable boat lights (carry backup batteries); and keep emergency supplies onboard in a waterproof, floating pouch.

4. Be weather wise.

Springtime weather can sometimes turn unpredictable at the drop of a hat. Sudden wind shifts or choppy water could mean a storm is brewing, even if the forecast called for sunny skies all afternoon. Bring appropriate foul weather gear to protect passengers from rain, wind and high waves. Pack extra blankets, clothes, food and make sure your cell phone is in a waterproof bag. Always head back to port as soon as the water starts to be choppy and the weather turns for the worst; never assume the storm will “pass over” and you’ll be okay.

5. Watch out for cold water temperatures.

Just because the air temperature is a balmy 70-degrees doesn’t mean the water temperature is that warm. In fact, it may be 10 degrees colder.  Springtime cold water reduces your margin for error on the water. Should a passenger unexpectedly go overboard, he or she may have just minutes before losing the ability to move muscles and swim for help. Body heat is lost approximately 25 times faster in water than it is in air according to Princeton University. As little as an hour in 50-degree water temperatures can lead to hypothermia and death. Keep a close eye on everyone on board and be ready to respond immediately with a throwable water rescue device.

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