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Coast Guard encourages safety for Alaska boaters during Independence Day celebration

Posted: July 4, 2014 - 12:00am

As Independence Day weekend begins, the Coast Guard 17th District urges Alaskan boaters to keep safe.

The Coast Guard reminds boaters and other water enthusiasts to consider the following while preparing for the boating season:

Wear it

While there are many factors that can contribute to boating accidents, a properly fitting life jacket can save a life even after an accident has occurred.

Putting a life jacket on is much harder once you’re in the water — especially if you’re injured. Federal regulations require a life jacket onboard for each person on the boat, but the Coast Guard recommends that you wear your life jacket at all times when boating. There are state and federal regulations that require children of a certain age to always wear life jackets when on the water.

If you do find yourself in trouble and in the water, stay with your vessel for as long as possible, even if capsized. Do not try to swim for shore.

For for more information about safe boating, go to: http://www.safeboatingcampaign.com.

Be alert

A common factor in boating accidents is operator inattention. If you are operating your vessel, stay focused on that task alone.

Avoid ship channels when practical. When crossing cannot be avoided, proceed directly across the channel quickly.

Be alert and watch for large commercial traffic.

Be seen, especially at night. Ensure navigation lights are working properly before beginning each voyage.

Know whistle signals — 5 or more blasts means danger.

Listen to VHF-FM radio channel 16 for security calls from commercial vessels.

Understand and observe the rules of the road.

The Coast Guard encourages all boaters to participate in a boating safety class. Boating safety courses are offered throughout the country for all types of recreational boaters of all ages. Qualified volunteer organizations such as the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Alaska Office of Boating Safety sponsor these courses.

Boaters can learn more about boating safety courses in their state by going to http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/boating_safety_courses_.aspx.

Do not operate a vessel while under the influence

Boating under the influence of alcohol can be more hazardous on the water than on land. The marine environment — motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray — accelerates impairment. These stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator’s coordination, judgment and reaction time decline faster when consuming alcohol. Alcohol can also cause an inner ear disturbance that may make it impossible for a person who falls into the water to distinguish up from down.

The Coast Guard and state agencies have stringent penalties for violating BUI laws. Penalties can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges, and jail terms. The Coast Guard and the states cooperate fully in enforcement to remove impaired boat operators from the water.

See something — say something

A boater operating his or her boat while intoxicated is a danger to everyone. The Coast Guard, state and local law enforcement agencies rely on all boaters to help report dangerous conditions on the water.

In addition to helping the Coast Guard remove intoxicated boaters from the water, public reporting of suspicious activity, persons, or packages helps the Coast Guard keep American citizens and critical marine infrastructure safe.

Emergency communications

Mariners are encouraged to invest in a VHF-FM radio as their primary means of distress calls on the water. Communication via VHF-FM radio is significantly more reliable than that of a mobile phone, especially in remote areas where mobile signal is intermittent.

Many new VHF-FM radios are equipped with Digital Selective Calling. This feature provides the mariner with an emergency function that will send a distress with the vessel’s information and Global Positioning System location at the press of a button. However, the DSC radio must be registered and must be interfaced with the GPS in order to accurately provide information to responders.

Boaters and paddlers who operate in remote areas are also encouraged to purchase and carry a 406 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or Personal Locator Beacon. When a beacon signal is received, search and rescue personnel can retrieve information from a registration database. This includes the beacon owner’s contact information, emergency contact information, and vessel/aircraft identifying characteristics. Having this information allows the Coast Guard or other rescue personnel to respond appropriately.

Safety equipment

Based on the size and type of a vessel, there may be specific federal requirements for safety equipment. Click on the following link to review the federal requirement brochure http://www.uscgboating.org/fedreqs/default.html.

Free vessel safety checks

The Coast Guard recommends that all recreational boaters, including personal watercraft users, take advantage of the free Vessel Safety Check program every year. VSCs are offered by experienced members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the nation’s premier volunteer boating safety organization. A VSC is the best possible way to learn about potential violations of state and federal requirements, but more importantly, these quick exams can keep your boat and passengers out of harm’s way.

Float plan

To ensure the safety of your vessel and all persons aboard, consider creating a float plan prior to your trip. Fill in all pertinent details and leave it with a reliable person who can be trusted to notify the Coast Guard in the event you do not return or check in as planned.

For more information about float plans go here: http://www.floatplancentral.org/download/USCGFloatPlan.pdf.

Create a safe legacy for your children

The Coast Guard encourages the boating public to educate children on water safety. There are kid-friendly resources ready for the task:

• Boating Safety Sidekicks: www.boatingsidekicks.com.

• Kids Don’t Float: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/boating/kdfhome.htm.

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