There is much more to safe boating than red, right, return. No matter how long you’ve been on the water, experience does not always equate to safety. Complacency is a dangerous mindset on the water.
Regardless of how you recreate on the water, wear a life vest and know how to use it. There are numerous styles of vests now available that won’t get in the way of your liquid fun. If you have your vest, it also allows you to make a rescue by swimming or throwing the device.
Some basic questions to ask of yourself and of your crew before heading out;
• Does your spouse know how to start the boat?
• Do passengers, other than you, know how to make a mayday call?
• If you fall overboard, can they pull the anchor, start the boat, and maneuver it to rescue you?
• Does your crew/family know where the electronic beacons are located?
• Does your 12 year old child know where the fire extinguisher is? (And can they actually use it?)
Make sure anyone who boards your vessel understands these basic skills. If the skipper becomes the person in the water or unconscious, and no one else knows the safety protocols or equipment, the emergency is compounded.
Everyone on board should know where the radio is, what channel to broadcast an emergency on, and how to properly initiate a call to the Coast Guard. Always have a float plan and let someone know your schedule.
If you are on a craft (especially a stand-up paddleboard or kayak) without a radio, put some thought into how to deal with an emergency before it happens. Always have a float plan, let someone know where you are going and when you are due back.
Consider pyrotechnic devices, such as smoke and hand flares for emergencies or spend the money for a personal electronic locator beacon. They can be expensive, but $150 bucks is a small price to pay to save your life.
Regardless of the type of rescue device, know how to use it. The time to understand how to set off a rocket flare isn’t when your boat is on fire and you’re in the water. A few minutes of instruction on the dock can save lives.
Also, everyone on board should know how to use a fire extinguisher. Use the PASS Technique; Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, Sweep back and forth.
I recommended expending your boat and home fire extinguisher every 3-5 years as practice. This allows for realistic use of the device and is worth the cost of a recharge. This ensures you, your crew and your family have some experience and a completely charged device.
Always have at least two people on board a vessel that have basic boating knowledge. If the only person who knows how to operate the boat ends up in the water, any safety plans go right with them. And don’t let anyone, especially children, bow ride on a vessel, sail or powerboat. This practice leads to numerous injuries and drownings every year in this country.
Prevention is the best way to survive a water emergency. No trip, no fish, no good time is worth a life. If conditions are bad then simply don’t go out.
Cold Water Immersion
Cool/cold water may be the single greatest water hazard. Your survival time is not measured in hours or even minutes, but often in seconds in cold water temperatures. Very few people involved in water emergencies actually perish from hypothermia. That sounds counterintuitive, but most drowning victims in these conditions have perished long before they can go hypothermic.
This phenomenon is referred to as cold water immersion and the symptoms rapidly lead to drowning.
The most critical stage of cold-water immersion is called the Cold-Water Shock Response. When thrust into cold water a human will involuntarily gasp uncontrollably, leading to the aspiration of water. Additional symptoms that will compound the danger are hyperventilation and increased heart rate, which results in rapid drowning.
What to Do
Slow deep breathing is the only remedy to the shock response. This can be difficult to accomplish. However, if you maintain slow deep breaths the effects will slowly begin to ebb. Don’t perform any other actions, even helping others, until your breathing is under control.
The HELP Position
The technique that works best for individual hypothermia mitigation is the Heat Escape Lessening Posture/Position or HELP position.
Grab the front or back of your knees and keep tight. (This cannot be accomplished effectively without a life vest or flotation aid.) Don’t squeeze too strongly a moderate grip is sufficient. Then slightly lean your head back and go with the flow. If for any reason you can’t grab your knees, try and keep your legs together. This will still offer some protection, by minimizing water flow over the body.
The HELP position extends survival time by lessening heat by minimizing water flow across the body and by keeping the body in the warmest part of the water column.
You cannot effectively move in the HELP position, but saving energy is the point.
Ben Rayner is a former underwater-egress and sea-survival instructor. He is an award-winning investigative journalist. His articles and features have seen print in a wide variety of marine and aviation industry publications. Rayner is executive director of Water Emergency Training, Inc., (www.wateremergencytraining.org/) a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives through drowning prevention education and training.