Boating Safety Tips for National Safe Boating Week

Posted on behalf of The Nye Law Group on May 23, 2017 in Personal Injury

sailing with life vests on Many Americans will spend a lot of time boating this summer, which is why President Donald Trump has designated this week as National Safe Boating Week.  

The goal of this week is for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and other organizations at the federal, state and local level to promote practical strategies for keeping yourself and your friends and family members safe when you go out on the water. The USCG and other organizations are also encouraging boaters to take boater education courses.

Using this week to learn about safe boating can help prevent a boating accident in Savannah that could result in severe injuries and deaths. Georgia had the sixth-highest number of boating deaths in the nation in 2015 with 22, according to the USCG's 2015 Recreational Boating Safety Statistics.

Boaters play a significant role in preventing accidents that result in deaths and injuries, as three of the top five contributing factors in boating accidents in Georgia and across the nation could be categorized as boater errors, including:

  • Operator inattention
  • Improper lookout
  • Excessive speed

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of an accident and keep yourself safe if a crash or other dangerous situation occurs, according to the North American Safe Boating Campaign (NSBC):

Always Wear a Life Jacket

This applies no matter what activity you are engaging in out on the water, including:

  • Fishing
  • Using a personal watercraft (PWC), such as a jet ski
  • Boating
  • Paddleboarding

When an accident occurs, there is rarely time to grab a life jacket and put it on properly, particularly when the life jacket is stowed away. Not wearing a life jacket significantly increases your risk of drowning, as 85 percent of people who drowned in boating accidents were not wearing life jackets, according to USCG statistics.

State Law on Life Jackets

Under Georgia's Boat Safety Act, all boats are required to have one personal flotation device (PFD) for each person on board. There are four types of PFDs that are acceptable under the law, Type I, Type II, Type III and Type V. However, Type V PFDs are only acceptable if they are worn and securely fastened.

Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A.) § 52-7-8(d)(2) states that the PFDs on your vessel must be:

  • Readily accessible to vessel occupants
  • In serviceable condition
  • Marked with the USCG-approved number
  • Appropriately sized for the occupants of the vessel

Any vessels more than 16 feet in length, excluding canoes and kayaks, are also required to have a Type IV PFD, which is a throwable life preserver.

However, the following vessels are exempt from the above requirements:

  • Racing sculls
  • Racing shells
  • Racing sweeps
  • Homemade or inflatable rafts operated 100 feet or less from the shore of a lake, pond or nonflowing body of water

Watch Children Closely

It only takes a second for a child to fall off a boat and sink under water. You should stay close to children at all times to ensure their safety.

Georgia law requires all children under the age of 13 to wear a USCG-approved PFD while on board a moving vessel.

Children under the age of 12 are not permitted to operate a vessel that is 16 feet or longer. However, children are legally permitted to operate a vessel less than 16 feet in length that does not have a motor.

Take a Boating Safety Course

These courses will teach you all the Georgia boating laws you need to know as well as boating best practices. Knowing how to react in certain situations on the water can make you a more confident, safer boater.

If you were born on or after January 1, 1998, you cannot operate a motorized vessel in Georgia unless you have completed a boating education course approved by Georgia's Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The only people who are exempt from this law are those who are:

  • Licensed by the USCG as a master of a vessel
  • Operating a vessel on a private lake or pond
  • Nonresidents who possess proof that they completed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators-approved course or equivalent course from another state
  • Between the ages of 12 and 15 and are operating a personal watercraft under the supervision of a competent adult

Approved Boater Education Courses

The BoatUS Foundation offers the only free online boating safety course approved by DNR. You can also pay $29.50 to take a court from Boat Ed. A third option is to pay $29.95 to take a course from Boaterexam.com.

You can prepare for your course by reading The Handbook! Of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibilities, created by Boat Ed.

Prepare your Boat Before Leaving

Before launching, contact the local Coast Guard branch or U.S. Power Squadrons to schedule a free vessel safety check.

In addition to PFDs, Georgia law states that all vessels must have the following equipment:

Navigation Lights

Failing to display necessary lights is one of the leading causes of fatal boating accidents in the state.

According to state law, any motorized vessel less than 26 feet in length that is being operated in the dark or during hours of low visibility is required to have one 20-point, green and red light on the bow that is visible for at least one mile along with either of the following:

  • A 32-point white sternlight visible for at least two miles
  • A 12-point white sternlight visible for at least two miles along with a 20-point white masthead light visible for three miles that is 3.3 feet higher than the sidelights and is carried amidships

Motorized vessels longer than 26 feet must display one of three combinations of lights during darkness or periods of low visibility.

One combination includes:

  • A 10-point red sidelight and 10-point green sidelight visible for at least one mile
  • A 12-point white sternlight visible for at least two miles
  • A 20-point white masthead light visible for at least three miles which is 3.3 feet higher than the sidelights and is carried amidships

The second combination is:

  • A 20-point white light visible for at least two miles at the bow
  • A 10-point red and 10-point green sidelight visible for at least one mile
  • A 32-point white sternlight visible for at least two miles

The third combination is:

  • A 20-point combination red and green sidelight located on the bow and visible for at least one mile
  • A 12-point white sternlight visible for at least two miles
  • A 20-point white masthead light visible for at least three miles which is 3.3 feet higher than the sidelights and is carried amidships

Visual Distress Signals

These allow boaters to signal for help if there is an emergency. Examples of USCG-approved visual distress signals (VSDs) include:

  • Red flares
  • Orange smoke flares (floating or handheld)
  • Red meteor flares
  • Electric light
  • Orange flag

If you are in a vessel on federally-controlled waters it must be equipped with the following USCG-approved VSDs:

  • Three handheld flares if you are traveling in the day or night
  • One handheld red flare and two red meteors for day or night
  • One handheld orange smoke signal in the day
  • Two floating orange smoke signals during the day
  • One electric light if you are traveling at night

The only exceptions to VSD requirements during the day are for:

  • Recreational vessels no greater than 16 feet in length
  • Open sailboats less than 26 feet in length without motors
  • Vessels that are manually propelled

Sound-Producing Devices

These include foghorns, bells and whistles and are highly recommended even when not required by law.

You are required to carry the following sound-producing devices in the following situations:

  • If you are on state waters in a vessel 26 feet long or longer, you must have a whistle, horn or other sound signal.
  • If you are on federal waters in a vessel less than 65.6 feet long, you must have a whistle or horn that is audible for at least half a mile. This includes personal watercraft.
  • If you are on a vessel that is 65.6 feet long or longer, you must have a whistle or horn and a bell audible for at least half a mile.

Fire Extinguishers

Every vessel that is mechanically propelled is required to carry one or more fire extinguishers depending on the type of vessel:

  • Vessels up to 26 feet in length that have enclosed areas that could trap gases or vapors must have a Type B-I USCG-approved portable fire extinguisher. The only exception is if there is a USCG-approved fire-extinguishing system in the machinery space.
  • Vessels between 26 feet and 40 feet in length must have two Type B-I or one Type B-I and one Type B-II USCG-approved portable fire extinguishers. If the vessel has a fire extinguishing system, the vessel only needs one Type B-I extinguisher.
  • Vessels more than 40 feet in length must be equipped with three Type B-I or one Type B-I and one Type B-II USCG-approved fire extinguisher. If there is a fire-extinguishing system, you need one less Type B-I portable fire extinguisher.

Communication Devices

It is also a good idea to equip your boat with communication devices to communicate your position in an emergency, potentially saving lives. Communication devices include:

  • Cellphones
  • Satellite phones
  • Emergency position indicating radio beacons
  • Personal locator beacons
  • VHF radios

Do Not Drink and Boat

Alcohol was a factor in 17 percent of boating deaths in 2015. Drinking and boating impairs judgment and slows reaction time, increasing the chances of an accident.

Not only is drinking and boating extremely dangerous, it is also illegal. For those under 21, the legal limit for alcohol is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 percent or higher. For anyone over 21, the legal limit is 0.08, just like it is for drunk driving.

Drinking and boating carries the following penalties:

  • Potential loss of the privilege to operate a boat until you complete a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program approved by the Georgia Department of Driver Services
  • A misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a one-year prison sentence
  • If a child under 14 years old is on the boat while you are operating it under the influence of alcohol, you will be charged with endangering a child

If you are stopped by law enforcement while out on the water and you refuse alcohol or drug testing, you will lose the privilege of operating a boat or personal watercraft for up to one year.

Operate the Boat Responsibly

This means avoiding reckless behaviors such as:

  • Traveling at excessive speeds, particularly in high traffic areas or when there are dangerous weather conditions
  • Carrying more passengers than the boat is designed to hold
  • Allowing the wake from your boat to cause damage to other boats
  • Operating the boat at a faster than idle speed within 100 feet of a dock, pier, bridge, anchored boat, public park, restaurant, marina or person in the water
  • Jumping the wake from another boat

Contact Our Savannah Boating Accident Attorneys

Have you been injured or lost a loved one in a boating accident?

Many of these accidents are caused by the negligence of other boaters. There are also some situations where a defective part on the boat caused injuries.

In either case, a Savannah-based personal injury lawyer at our firm may be able to help you recover fair compensation for the damages you have suffered.

Complete our Free Case Evaluation form right now.

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We are committed to fighting for justice and compensation for injury victims who have suffered because of another’s negligence in auto accidents, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse and many other situations.

We offer personal injury victims a free consultation to discuss their legal options. YOU OWE US NOTHING UNLESS WE RECOVER COMPENSATION FOR YOU.

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