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June 18, 2012

Safe Boating Monday

Over 70,000,000 Americans enjoy recreational boating every year. While boating is certainly a fun outdoor activity, it is important to take certain safety precautions to prevent injuries. Unfortunately, recreational boating incidents injured 3,358 people and killed 736 during 2009, according to the National Safe Boating Council. Over 75 percent of these deaths were due to drowning, and 84 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating incidents and is involved in about half of all deaths related to water activity.

First, everyone on any boat should wear an appropriately-sized, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times. There are three main types of life jackets: inherently buoyant (mostly foam), inflatable (recommended for swimmers only), and hybrid (both foam and inflation). Make sure the life jacket is in good and serviceable condition (for inflatable jackets, this means that all status indicators are green) before departing. Although not recommended, if life jackets are removed at all during trip, make sure they are readily accessible in case of emergency.

Second, boat operators and passengers should all avoid drinking alcohol before or during recreational boating outings. Alcohol impairs cognitive ability, judgment, balance, coordination, vision and hearing. In fact, due to vibration, movement, noise, wind, sun, and spray, boating under the influence (BUI) is just as, or even more dangerous than drinking and driving. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a boating operator with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.10 percent has a 10 times greater chance of dying in a boating accident than one with zero blood alcohol concentration.

Use the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron's free Vessel Safety Check service to have a certified specialist examine your vessel and make sure it is up to State and Federal standards. They can also offer other recommendations to improve the safety of your boat.

Furthermore, learn how to properly operate and navigate your boat by taking a boating education course. As 70 percent of boating accidents involve an operator error, one key step towards preventing an incident is to be educated.

Also be sure to know about the dangers of carbon monoxide. CO is emitted as an odorless, colorless, and poisonous gas from the combustion of boat engines and motor generators, whether the boat is anchored, moored, or underway. While CO poisoning symptoms are similar to seasickness or alcohol intoxication, they can overcome without warning and can be fatal within a few minutes. In order to prevent CO poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends boaters learn about its causes and symptoms, maintain fresh air circulation, never block or swim/play near exhaust outlets, and use CO detectors.

Finally, experts recommend all boaters prepare Float Plans and leave them with a dependable person before departing on a vessel of any size. This form, which includes information about vessel features, passengers onboard, itinerary details, and more, will help rescue organizations find you in case you do not arrive back as planned.

For more about safe boating, go to http://www.uscgboating.org/safety, www.safeboatingcampaign.com, or http://www.cdc.gov/Features/BoatingSafety/. For specific information about life jackets, visit http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/life_jacket_wear_wearing_your_life_jacket.aspx. To register for a Vessel Safety Check, see http://www.safetyseal.net/. Click here to download a Float Plan: http://www.floatplancentral.org/download/USCGFloatPlan.pdf.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.