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Tis The Season For Safety on the Seas

The holidays are a great time to get out on the water. Take
your boat for an extended cruise. Raft up with some friends in a beautiful
anchorage. Rent a run-about and island hop. However, let safety be your north
star and common sense be your guide. Here are some holiday marine boating tips:

Safe Passage-making: “Carry up to date nautical
charts, especially if you’re not familiar with water depths and obstructions in
the areas where you’ll be boating,” recommends Bruce Wright, the Miami,
Florida-based recreational boating safety specialist for the U.S. Coast Guard’s
District 7, which includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Obtaining current weather information is also essential.
“Listen to a forecast the night before you go, then again in the morning before
setting out,” Wright advises.

Consider purchasing a small inexpensive weather radio if you
don’t already have one. NOAA provides continuous weather broadcasts on VHF-FM
marine radio.

The best protection against lightening storms is to avoid
them, Wright says. “Keep a weather eye out for the coppery haze and building
cumulonimbus clouds that signals a storm’s approach.”

To judge the distance you are from a storm, count the
seconds between the flash of a lightening bolt and sound of thunder. Divide
this number by five to figure out how many miles away the storm is located.

Safety Equipment: Don’t leave shore without the
minimum federal requirements for safety equipment. This includes your boat’s
registration and a life jacket of proper size for everyone aboard. Kids age 13
and under must wear their life jacket when on deck. Boats over 16-feet must
carry an additional flotation devise like a float cushion or swim ring.

Also, carry a visual distress signal. “This is most often
flares, but an emergency strobe light will also work,” Wright says.

A fire extinguisher, navigation lights if you intend to run
from sunset to sunrise, and a sound-producing device such as a whistle or
electric horn is also required.

Recreational vessels over 26-feet must also display an oil
pollution and garbage disposal plaque.

Know Before You Rent or Charter: “If you want to rent
a boat, know the basic rules of seamanship. Line of sight navigation seems
deceptively simple, but a trip can sour quickly if you have limited boating
experience and assume the helm,” Wright says.

Overcrowding: Dinghies weighted to the waterlines and
small boats with big crowds are always a risk at holiday time when friends get
together. “Use common sense,” Wright says. “If the police or Coast Guard
personnel see a situation that’s unsafe, they have the right to terminate your

Speeding: Unlike roadways, the wide-open seas don’t
have posted speed limits. This often tempts boaters to rev to the max to get
from one destination to another. “Unless there is a posted speed limit, such as
in harbor areas or no wake zones, we suggest a rate of speed that doesn’t
endanger property or persons. Base a safe speed on the traffic, water
conditions, visibility and other potential hazards,” Wright recommends.

Drugs & Alcohol: Too much holiday cheer can sink
the best boating trip. “Its illegal to operate a boat, and that’s considered
anything from a personal water craft to a larger vessel, when under the
influence of alcohol or drugs,” Wright says.

Indeed, use of these substances can impair your peripheral
vision, night vision and ability to distinguish colors like red and green. They
can also create inner ear disturbances that make it difficult to distinguish up
from down if you fall in the water. Judgment deteriorates. Reaction is slowed.
The risk of an accident increases.

“When operating a boat, you accept responsibility for the
vessel, the safety of your passengers and crew and others out enjoying the
waters,” Wright says.


The following items aren’t required by law to have onboard.
But, they can help make your trip safer.

Anchor and line

Charts and navigation tools, including a magnetic compass

Fenders and boat hook

Moorings lines and heaving lines

Manual bilge pump and bailing bucket


parts like fuses, spark plugs, and belts for the generator and water pump

spare propeller, if applicable

marine radio. Choose a fixed mounted type that provides greater wattage than
portable handhelds.

and oar, if applicable

and batteries



aid kit

food, water and clothing


(emergency positioning indicator radio beacon)

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