RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Boating is a popular summer activity and can be a great way to enjoy the San Antonio sun, but without taking proper precautions, boating can be dangerous.
In 2009, according to United States Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics, there were 736 boating fatalities throughout the country. Of those deaths, 543 were drowning victims and only 87 of them were wearing life jackets. Alcohol use caused 308 accidents and 120 deaths. Operator inexperience, operator inattention, excessive speed, improper lookout and weather also lead to fatal accidents.
By planning well, Randolph Airmen and their families can still enjoy the many boating options in the San Antonio area without any accidents.
"A trip plan is an essential part of safe boating," Tech Sgt. Connie Lowe, 502nd Air Base Wing ground safety technician said.
The first part of planning includes being educated about boating and being certified to operate a boat by taking a boater education course, Sergeant Lowe said.
In 2009, more than 80 deaths were caused by boat operator inattention and inexperience. Taking a boater education course can enlighten boating enthusiasts about who is legally allowed to operate a boat and how that person can safely do so.
"Operators must meet the age and boater education requirements in order to operate boating vessels legally in Texas," said Sergeant Lowe.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1984 and under the age of 18 must complete a TPWD-approved boater education course to be certified and to operate a motorboat more than 10 horsepower, a wind-blown vessel more than 14 feet and all personal watercraft, like jet skis. After passing a boater education course, anyone as young as 13 can operate a boat in Texas.
Another aspect of safe boating is carrying the necessary safety gear.
"This includes, but is not limited to, flares, a horn, a water bailer and lifejackets," Sergeant Lowe said.
The TPWD requires children younger than 13 to wear a life jacket while in a boat and recommends life jackets be readily available for everyone on board. According to USCG Recreational Boating Statistics, 84 percent of boating accident victims during the last 20 years who drowned were not wearing a life jacket.
Sergeant Lowe explained that boaters should wear properly fitted life jackets regardless of swimming skill.
In 2009, the top five types of accidents were collisions with a vessel, collisions with a fixed object, skier mishap, flooding and capsizing. All these accidents can lead to boat operators or passengers falling into the water, increasing the need to keep life jackets available to all boating participants.
Another way to avoid boating accident fatalities is to know the water depth and to keep from diving after someone who may have fallen out of the boat.
"Avoid jumping in to save someone who has just fallen in the water," said Sergeant Lowe. "Someone struggling to stay above water may pull their potential rescuer under water with them."
Diving in shallow water can lead to injury as well, explained Sergeant Lowe.
Having good wingmen on the boat can help the operator, as well as fellow passengers, ensure a safe boating trip.
"Always have a passenger serve as a lookout in addition to the operator," said Sergeant Lowe.
This includes looking out for other boats, but also involves looking out for obstacles and making sure the driver keeps a safe speed, pays attention and does not consume alcohol.
According to USCG Recreational Boating Statistics, 16 percent of boating deaths in the last 20 years were alcohol related.
The TPWD game wardens enforce the Boating While Intoxicated law that requires the arrest of a person who either appears to be impaired or has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher while operating a boat.
Although open containers are legal on boats, operators and passengers are both subject to public intoxication laws. According to the TPWD Website, "Drinking and boating is dangerous and the cause of most boating fatalities."
Along with taking a boating safety course, making sure all passengers have life jackets, and ensuring alcohol control, paying attention to the weather is another habit of safe boating. Weather, hazardous waters, and the force of a wake caused more than 700 boating accidents in 2009 and more than 150 deaths.
"Stay clear of bad weather by looking at the forecast ahead of time," said Sergeant Lowe.
Although it is a fun summer pastime, boating entails various inherent dangers that can be overlooked. With proper planning, Airmen and their families can enjoy a safe boating trip.