Coast Guard urges safe boating during Columbus Day weekend

Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Mullis, a coxswain from Coast Guard Station Mayport, Fla., connects an engine cut-off switch in Mayport, Sep. 30, 2020. On April 1, 2021, a new federal law went into effect that requires the operator of a boat with an installed Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) to use the ECOS link. The link is usually a coiled bungee cord lanyard clipped onto the operator's person, Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or clothing, and the other end attached to the cut-off switch, but there are plenty of variations on the market, including electronic wireless devices. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Vincent Moreno)

Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Mullis, a coxswain from Coast Guard Station Mayport, Fla., connects an engine cut-off switch in Mayport.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Vincent Moreno)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Coast Guard urges boaters to take extra precautions while out on the water for Columbus Day weekend.

Coast Guard boat crews, along with local and state law enforcement agencies, will be patrolling, conducting safety checks and looking for individuals boating while intoxicated or operating unsafely.

“At the minimum, all boaters should have enough life jackets available for all passengers and children aboard a vessel,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Shanahan, boarding officer and coxswain, U.S. Coast Guard Station Mayport. “The importance of boating safety is paramount to the mitigation and prevention of a possible search and rescue case.”

Consider these boating safety tips before leaving the dock:

Never boat under the influence (BUI): It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail sentences. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. According to the 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics, across the country alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2020, accounting for over 100 deaths, or 18 % of total fatalities.

File a float plan: Leave a detailed float plan with a friend or family member who is staying back. A float plan should include detailed information rescue personnel need to find you such as where you are going and when you will be back. The sooner a vessel can be reported overdue, the more likely a positive outcome will result. Facts need to be quickly and accurately conveyed in an emergency. To find examples of a float plan and for more information, visit https://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/floating-plan.php

Wear a life jacket: Life jackets save lives. According to 2020 Recreational boating statistics nationally in 2020, 86 % of boaters who drowned in a fatal boating accident were not wearing a life jacket. Accidents can leave even a strong swimmer injured, unconscious, or exhausted in the water. The best life jacket is the one you wear.

Take a VHF-FM marine radio: Cell phones may lose signal offshore and run out of batteries after a day on the water. They are helpful, but not reliable for emergencies. VHF-channel 16 is the marine emergency channel. It should only be used for emergencies. Boaters can reach the Coast Guard on marine-band radios at any time, day or night.

Have a signaling device to communicate an emergency: Boaters should have an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or a personal locator beacon (PLB) onboard to send a distress signal to the nearest rescue coordination center, which then notifies local search and rescue assets.

A boater must register their beacons with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – it is very easy and only takes a few minutes. If any contact information changes (phone number, address, marital status), a boater must update their registration.

Use an Engine Cut-Off Switch: On April 1, 2021, a new federal law went into requiring boat operators to use an ECOS. The ECOS is usually a coiled bungee cord lanyard clipped onto the operator’s person, Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or clothing, and the other end attached to the cut-off switch, but there are plenty of variations on the market, including electronic wireless devices. The law applies to all navigable waters. Learn more about the law from the Office of Boating Safety.

Label your paddle craft: Take responsibility for your paddle craft by labeling it your name and phone number using an if found-contact sticker or use a permanent marker and cover it with clear tape. This allows responders to confirm if someone is actually in trouble and collect information to help search efforts.

Take responsibility for recovering your paddle craft. Unmanned and adrift kayaks, canoes, dinghies, and rowboats often cause hazards to navigation in the waterway and increase the level of risk and fatigue on response crews tasked to find the owners associated with the unmanned paddle craft.

To find more safe boating tips, go to https://uscgboating.org/

Download the free U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety app from your phone’s app store.

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