Common Boating Accidents

Boating accidents occur on all water ways.
They can be traumatic, or a simple bump.

There Are Six Major Causes of Boating Accidents:
Capsizing
Overloading, and/or improper loading
Man overboard
Improper forward watch
Ignoring weather
Unsafe fuel practices.

Some accidents are not accidents, but an over due vessel. Many boaters file FLOAT PLANS, the same as pilots file flight plans. Float plans are not filed with the Coast Guard, but with a friend or relative. Their intention is if anything should happen while out then someone can commence searching for them if over due.

A Float Plan Should State:
  • WHERE the boater is launching from and is going.

  • WHEN he will leave and return, and

  • WHO is aboard.

  • When the boater returns to port he is suppose to call the person and tell them they are back.

Most boating accidents occur at the end of the day when environment, and drinking can induce bad judgement. The number one cause of fatalities in boating accidents is capsizing. It is normally the result of improper loading or overloading, but also can be caused by other things such as foul weather. When a boat capsizes the occupants should stay with the boat. Most boats float upside down, or full of water, even with outboard motors attached. The vessel can easily be seen from the air or as you draw near. If the victims stayed with her, they can quickly be rescued. Regardless many people resolve for some reason that they can swim to shore. Most boats are further out than they think and at night light travels great distances. When it happens on a lake, shore may not be to far away, depending on the size of the lake. Offshore it becomes a major search operation, involving the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol, and other search teams.

Another reason for capsizing is anchoring to the stern. Every year boats capsize, and people are injured or killed, because of the vessel being anchored by the stern. These accidents are all very similar. In a small boat with an outboard motor, gas tank, and battery, all in the stern, plus the anchor cleated off aft, someone gets up to retrieve the anchor, and suddenly a "freak wave" comes over and swamps the boat. Boats are designed to ride over the water bow first. When the stern faces the current the pressure of the water pushes on the flat bottom surface of the stern, while the anchor line is holding the top part against the current. This creates a lever action that increases tension on the anchor line, pulling the stern deeper into the water. When the line is retrieved the added pull can swamp the boat.

The second greatest cause of fatal accidents is someone falling overboard. Most of these happen while the boat is moored, or at anchor. It is most often caused by unstable footing or unsafe acts, like sitting on the sideboards or gunwales. Standing or moving about without holding on to something is another cause. And finally, the old saying that, if someone is going to fall out, it will be on a turn. Turns on power boats that are high speed, tight, or without warning is the likely time that people fall overboard. With sailboats, the turn may look slow, but on board the boom swings quickly taking anyone or anything in its path with it. People who are not familiar with sailing should go over turning before leaving port. All turns on a sailing vessel should be proceeded by the Skipper hollering: "PREPARE TO JIBE", and as the turn is executed: "JIBE HO", at which time the boom swings. Anyone who is not ready on the swing, not only goes over board, but can have serious injuries, and possible C-spine and other fractures.

In a large number of cases where someone died in a boating accident the root cause was overloading or improper loading. The stability of a vessel is affected by the weight and position of that weight on the vessel. When a boat starts everyone is in a stable position, then someone moves, shifting the weight that can upset the stability. This is more predominate in boats under 16 feet. The load needs to be distributed evenly and not over loaded.

Unlike autos on the highway, Skippers are obliged to assist other vessels in distress, as long as it does not endanger their passengers or vessel by doing so. If the boat does not have any signaling devices, raising and lowering both arms is accepted as a recognized distress signal. However regulations require that all offshore, and Great Lakes boat operators have a signaling device. The only exception is for boats less than 16 feet, or manually propelled. It is a good idea for vessels everywhere to carry some type of signaling device.

Flares and smoke producing devices are called PYROTECHNIC VISUAL DISTRESS SIGNALING DEVICES. They are aerial or hand held red flares, hand held or floating orange smoke, and red stars or parachute flares. Flares may be used in daylight hours but smoke works best.

Flags and lights are NON-PYROTECHNIC VISUAL SIGNALING DEVICES. Everyone has heard of flying the U.S. Ensign (flag) upside down as a distress signal, but there is a maritime distress signal flag, which is an orange background, with a black square, over a black ball. Most people wont notice the U.S. flag upside down but the distress flag stands out in daylight hours. At night there is a distress light, which automatically flashes the international distress signal, S.O.S. (Save Our Ship). The SOS signal is three dots followed by three dashed followed by three dots. Some boats carry a radar reflector, and it is also on all life rafts. These reflectors allows search craft with radar to find the stranded vessel easily.

If your dive team will be working in large bays, or offshore you might want to get a marine band radio. Channel 16 VHF-FM (151.6 mHz) and HF 2182 kHz are guarded by the Coast Guard as distress frequencies. Citizens Band Radio (CB) channel 9 is used as a distress channel for people using them. Many recreational boaters in coastal regions use CB radios because they are less expensive.

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