One of our favorite boat safety campaigns is National Safe Boating Week, which was held this year from May 20 to May 26. Every year, individuals and organizations act to increase the awareness of safe and responsible behaviors on the water. Boating is one of our nation’s favorite summer activities for a good, simple reason—it’s a fun and exciting way to spend time with the people we care about.
However, boating innately has risks and dangers that pose a threat to even the most experienced boater. Every year, hundreds of people lose their lives in boating accidents; in many cases, lives that could have been saved with proper training and equipment. Conversely, there are boaters who have been able to avoid peril by being prepared and making good, educated decisions.
In the honor of the National Safe Boating Week, we are sharing some stories from real boaters that, through experience and boat safety training, made it back to the shore after a potentially dangerous situation on the water. We also want to examine the actions these boaters performed that made a difference in their situations. These individuals have shared their stories in hopes of helping others who may encounter similar situations.
Survival on the Pacific
Our first story is from Eric Pennington, a boater and fisherman with over 30 years of experience, who shared with us how an otherwise normal fishing trip off the Oregon coast quickly turned into a dicey situation. Without warning, the engine coil in Eric’s boat became inoperable, rendering him helpless in his efforts to get back to the shore. Immediately, Eric used his vessel’s marine radio to call for help. A smaller fishing boat attempted to render aid but it was too small to pull Eric’s boat to the shore.
While waiting for help to arrive, Eric noticed that the sea’s intensity was picking up dramatically; so much so that the boat was being pushed dangerously closer toward dense rock formations on the coastline. Thinking quickly, Eric dropped his anchor to stabilize his position until help arrived. Fortunately, help came in the form of a U.S. Coast Guard vessel. With Eric’s engine rendered inoperable, the U.S. Coast Guard had to tow his boat to the shore.
Preparedness Paying Off
Onboard the boat as a safety precaution, Eric used a separate, heavy length of rope to tie his boat to the U.S. Coast Guard’s vessel for a tow back to the shore. “One of the less-obvious safety items onboard my boat are safety ropes,” Pennington said. “I have an extra 150 feet of heavy rope, separate from my front rope anchor and chain.” The rope proved useful as Eric used it to secure his vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard’s boat, all this while the submerged anchor kept the boat stable and in place. Shortly thereafter, Eric and his boat safely arrived back at the shore.
Despite 30 years of experience on the water, Eric holds a healthy level of veneration for the sea. “I live to boat and fish, and I have a ball being out on the water,” Pennington said. “But I do respect the water and the potential dangers.” Eric’s story serves as a great reminder to always maintain awareness of your surroundings and to never underestimate the conditions on the water.
Trouble on the Tuckahoe River
John Bruno, a veteran boater, shared a similar experience that took place in New Jersey. While spending time out on the Tuckahoe river, John’s outboard motor stopped running—leaving him with only the boat’s oars to propel the boat forward. Fortunately, John was well-prepared to deal with this situation. John immediately dropped the anchor to stabilize the boat against the river’s strong current and used the boat’s oars to keep the boat off the riverbank.
Using his boat’s marine radio, John called for help. John used the onboard safety flares to signal to the boat that was coming to their aid. “My passengers and I were all veteran boaters and knew to remain calm,” Bruno said. “We were able to use the safety equipment onboard to get help and to keep everyone safe.” John was quick to credit his experience and the Boat Ed® boat safety course as two important factors that dictated how he handled this boating emergency.
Four Keys to Survival
Fortunately, both Eric and John were able to successfully return to shore without sustaining injuries or significant damage to their vessels. More importantly, the other people on board were also safe. The men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard truly perform an amazing job, and a tremendous amount of credit is owed to our first responders for keeping us safe on the water. However, it's important to note that Eric and John's rescue stories have some important behaviors in common that made it possible to receive timely help:
Both boaters had met U.S. Coast Guard’s boating safety requirements and their equipment was in a good, working condition. Passengers wore personal flotation devices (PFDs), flares were in good order, and communication devices were available to contact assistance.
Both captains remained focused on the task at hand and proceeded with caution and organization. In an emergency, there can be a lot of things going on at the same time and all of them demanding immediate attention. By staying calm and organized, both the captains could work through immediate decisions and executed distress calls over marine radio. Staying calm ensures your own safety and the safety of passengers on board.
Assessed the situation
Eric and John immediately spent some time on understanding the prevalent weather conditions, and how these conditions impacted their boat’s position as well as its ability to stay upright. They monitored the motor’s condition. Onboard safety equipment was deployed and used correctly.
Call for help
When the skippers found their individual boats to be inoperable, they accurately deployed Mayday calls to summon help. They could provide their position on the water, and they used flares and signals as the rescue vessels neared their locations.
Remember that following safe boating practices is only one part of staying safe out on the water. You must be prepared to respond to any emergency that might happen. Hopefully, Eric and John’s stories encourage you to make preparation and boat safety training a priority. By doing so, you will be making sure that your vessel and everyone on board return to the shore safely after each trip.