One of the enjoyable aspects of being a safe boating advocate is I get asked to speak to boating groups. Some of those groups are focused on angling. The leaders of these angling groups always tell me that many of their new members know little to nothing about boating basics. In a 15 to 20-minute talk I can only touch on so much and my hope is I can convince some of the audience members to take a basic boating course to learn more. Here are some of the item's I typically cover.
Anglers Have a Higher Rate of Accidents
Too many anglers are more prepared for fishing than boating. One out of three people who died on the water did so while fishing, hunting or on the way to fish and hunt. 47% of these sportsmen did not even have a life jacket on board. Drowning is the leading cause of death in boating accidents. National statistics show that 75% of fatal boating accident victims drowned and 86% of those victims were not wearing life jackets.
The type of boat you fish from can be safety factor to consider. Some boats are designed for standing, others are not, so care should be taken when moving about the vessel. Anglers tend to be in vessels with low freeboard making it easier to fall into the water. When you catch that big one, and the excitement level goes up on the boat make sure the other anglers do not all rush to the same side to help you land the fish. Be sure to maintain your balance and keep the weight distributed on the boat or you might land in the water.
If you fall overboard, can you get back into your boat? As we age it gets harder to climb up the boarding ladder on most smaller vessels. It is a good idea to make sure you know how, and can get back into your boat if you fall overboard. Try it sometime and see for yourself.
Anglers Have No Special Dispensation from Any of The Navigation Rules
The Navigation Rules have one purpose, prevent collisions.
Rule #5 simply states,
"Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision."
Operator inattention is the primary contributing factor in accidents. If no one on the boat is paying attention to where they are going, and what is happening around them, it is hard to prevent an accident. Once at their fishing spot many anglers stop paying attention to other boat traffic around them. Many anglers believe they have special privileges when "fishing." Some think there is a rule that gives "vessels engaged in fishing" priority over other vessels. There is one, but it does not apply to anglers.
Navigation Rule # 3 says, "vessels engaged in fishing means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing apparatus which restrict maneuverability…" It goes on to state, "but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus which do not restrict maneuverability." Knowing and following all the rules is important to keep you and your passengers safe. Find at, https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/navigation-rules-amalgamated
Vessel Safety Check
Getting a vessel safety check should be an annual event. It takes about thirty to forty-five minutes and forces you to pull out all the federally required equipment and inspect it. Just like your fishing gear, the equipment you are required to have on the boat can wear out or may have passed it useful life.
The vessel examiner can also be a source of information about what is new in the way of safety requirements and equipment. For instance, starting in 2022 disposable fire extinguishers now have an expiration date. Disposable fire extinguishers need to be replaced twelve years after the date of manufacture date.
In 2021 the Federal regulations mandate that an individual operating a vessel less than 26 feet, that has an engine cut off switch, must use it while operating above displacement speed. After the examination always ask the vessel examiner if there are any addition safety items they would recommend for your boat. You might be surprised by their answer. Https://americasboatingclub.org/connect/safety
Manatee Protection Zones
The speed limit in Manatee Protection Zones is another topic that comes up frequently when speaking with various groups. In all manatee protection zones the state has set the speed limit as "Slow Speed Minimum Wake." Your vessel is required to be fully settled in the water. Meaning you are required not exceed your vessel's hull displacement speed. "Minimum Wake" means your wake should not be so big it can cause damage to other vessels in the water. As the operator of your boat, you are responsible for any damage you may cause.
Near the shoreline and in the vicinity of marinas and boat launch sites, "Slow Speed No Wake" (Idle Speed) is the rule. Your vessel is required to be fully settled in the water and you should only be going as fast as required to maintain maneuverability and make headway. There is a simple reason why these two types of "slow speed" zones do not have a numerical speed limit. Different hull types make different sizes of wakes. One boat type could be traveling at 6 MPH and make no wake, while a different style of boat could be making a large wake.
Lee County publishes a guide to where the different speed zones are. You can get a free copy in many places around the county. The guide and other boating information are also online at https://swflwaterways.com.
New boaters coming from "up north" typically know all about the dangers of cold-water immersion and hypothermia and not enough about heat stress. If you are new to Florida you need to take heat stress seriously, on and off the water, year round. Heat stress is most common when both the air temperature is above 75 and the humidity is above 75%, that means most of the year.
In simple terms heat stress causes the body to lose its ability to regulate its temperature. This is caused by dehydration. Drinking water is the best way to replace lost fluids. Left untreated heat stress can lead to heat stroke. Know the signs and make sure you have plenty of water on board for everyone.
Take a Basic Boating Course
FWC's annual boating accident report, https://myfwc.com/boating/safetyeducation/accidents
states, "These (accident) statistics show us that the boat operator most likely to be involved in a boating accident is a middle-age or older male who has boating experience yet has never learned the most important safety considerations by having taken a boating safety course."
A list of where you can find a state approved courses is online,
This list includes in-person and on-line courses. I recommend the in-person courses as they provide you the opportunity to interact with the instructors, get insights into local boating issues, and meet other boaters.
Stay safe on the water
Thomas E. Dawson is a volunteer instructor at the Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron where he teaches America's Boating Course. Dawson is also the author of two boating books. Safe Boating in Southwest Florida, a guide book to the waterways Bokeelia to W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam.
And Barret Bonden's Thoughts on Boating Safely - both books available from Amazon.
Written by Thomas E. Dawson
Published in Nautical Mile, November 2023
Club Blogger - Jim Collier