May 22-28 is National Safe Boating Week. It’s a good time to pause and remember some of the basic concepts of boating safety before we gear up for a busy boating season. To that end, we talked with Gail Kulp, executive director of Sea Tow Foundation, for some timely reminders.
Tell us more about the Sea Tow Foundation and its mission and programs. How does the Foundation promote and enable safer boating?
The Sea Tow Foundation is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting boating safety and education. We work to reduce drownings through educational programs, our nationwide Life Jacket Loaner program and our Sober Skipper Campaign.
With the Memorial Day weekend coming up, boaters across the country will be heading to the water What do you recommend in the way of a pre-boating checklist?
Our First Mate Checklist is a great way to help children and adults get the boat ready for a day on the water. In addition, the Sea Tow Foundation recommends scheduling a free vessel safety check from our friends at the USCG Auxiliary or America’s Boating Club. Their members will go over every item that a boater must have to be considered legally equipped as well as recommended safety gear.
What are some common mistakes boaters make when it comes to boating safety?
We see these three mistakes most often:
Lifejacket Fit: Boaters often don’t find a properly fitting, comfortable life jacket for themselves and their family members. This means that no one is going to want to wear them, including the kids, and in many places it is required depending on the age and activity taking place. A comfortable life jacket that fits properly is essential and with inflatable options available for adults, there is no excuse why it can’t be worn.
Skipped Boating Safety Course: Boaters don’t know what they don’t know if they’ve never taken a boating safety course. The USCG Accident Statistics show that boaters who have taken a course are much less likely to be involved in accidents. In fact, only 20% of all boating deaths in 2019 occurred on a boat where the operator had passed a course. There are lots of online options for courses as well as in-person classes and boaters just need to find the course that is right for them and take it. And, as a bonus, many insurance companies will give a discount for passing a course.
Drinking while Boating: Sometimes operators think he or she can have just one drink and still be okay because they could still be under the legal limit and safely drive their car. Unfortunately, boating involves lots of additional stressors on the body like the rocking of the boat on the water, the hot sun beating down and the wind constantly blowing in your face. When these are combined with any alcohol or drugs, even prescription medicine, the combination can be deadly. That’s why it is critical that the operator be a Sober Skipper and not have any alcohol. After all, the USCG has listed alcohol use as the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents for many years.
Our national, grassroots Sober Skipper campaign focuses on encouraging boaters to make the right choice before heading out on the water by designating a sober skipper for their entire trip. We encourage boaters to Take the Pledge and, in return, a yellow Sober Skipper wristband is mailed to them to serve as a reminder of their commitment to boating safety. And the wristband can be shared and worn by whomever is the sober skipper on each boating trip.
When should you wear a life jacket? Can you tell us about Sea Tow’s Life Jacket Loaner Program?
This is a great question, and we actually just published a list of the Top 10 times you should absolutely, positively wear a life jacket.
Our nationwide Life Jacket Loaner Program allows anyone on or near the water to borrow and return a life jacket that fits them at no charge from one of the over 750+ locations. Life jackets are available in sizes ranging from infant through adult extra-large and the vest-style is comfortable enough to be worn all day. A map of the life jacket loaner station locations is available here. We’ll be adding at least another 75 locations to the map in 2021.
A big thank-you goes out to the great work being done by the Sea Tow Foundation and other safe boating initiatives around the country. We hope you’ll have tons of fun with your family and friends on the water this summer. And stay safe.
Here are some additional resources from Sea Tow Foundation: