JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Coast Guard is reminding boaters to make safety a priority during this busy Memorial Day weekend.
There are several important safety measures boaters can take prior to going out on the water:
- Get a free vessel safety check conducted by the Coast Guard Auxiliary to ensure your vessel is seaworthy. Auxiliarists will also ensure you have necessary safety equipment.
- File a float plan with a responsible friend, family member or local harbormaster. A float plan should include your information, the information of your boat, where you intend to go, when you intend to return and other data. If you do not return at the designated time, a search and rescue mission can be initiated for you.
- Check the weather before venturing out on the water. Weather conditions at sea can change quickly and without warning. Ensure the weather is safe and if conditions do not look suitable, it is advised you alter your plans until weather conditions improve. If in doubt, don’t go out.
- Do not mix alcohol use with boating. If you’re planning to drink alcohol, ensure you have a designated boat operator. Operating a boat while intoxicated is not only dangerous, it is illegal.
- Wear a lifejacket. Personal floatation devices significantly increase your chances of survival if you fall overboard. More than 80 percent of drowning victims were not wearing lifejackets.
Boaters are also encouraged to purchase and register an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. An EPIRB is an important and highly effective piece of life-saving equipment that can send a distress signal to the Coast Guard via satellite.
Other essential safety equipment includes a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit and a GPS.
It is highly recommended boaters maintain a VHF radio aboard their vessels at all times. A cell phone can be useful, but it should not be relied upon as the primary piece of communications equipment. Cell phone signals can weaken greatly as you go offshore, as well as in some inland areas, and may not be useful during an emergency.
Boaters are discouraged from using the term “Mayday” when conducting radio checks; “Mayday” should be used in distress situations only.
Flares and emergency signaling devices are other key pieces of safety equipment. Boat operators should know how to properly use flares in the event of an emergency. Signal flares are for emergencies only. Improper use of flares often becomes a false alarm. Anyone who accidently fires a flare should notify the Coast Guard immediately.
While boaters in distress should not hesitate to call the Coast Guard immediately, it is important that mariners remember to notify the Coast Guard if they are no longer in need of assistance. If you do require assistance or rescue, notify the Coast Guard through VHF channel 16 immediately. Boaters in distress should not hesitate to call for help; the Coast Guard does not seek reimbursement for rescue services provided.
The Coast Guard highly advises boaters to not place hoax calls. Hoax calls needlessly waste time, money and divert resources from responding to actual emergencies. Penalties, under federal law, for knowingly placing a hoax call can include prison time, a $5,000 civil fine, a $250,000 criminal fine and restitution to the Coast Guard for costs incurred while responding to the hoax. Boaters are encouraged to teach children how to properly use the radio for emergencies but also instruct them that it is not a toy. Parents will be held responsible for improper radio use committed by their kids.
For tech-savvy boaters, the Coast Guard has released a new Coast Guard mobile app. The smart phone app allows users to find the latest safety regulations, check safety equipment, request a vessel safety check and perform several other functions. The mobile app does not replace the VHF radio, which is still considered the primary and most reliable method of requesting Coast Guard assistance.
The Coast Guard wishes all boaters a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.