Proper use of life jackets should not be overlooked

July 14, 1991|By Peter Baker

Over a period of six days that started on July 4, seven people died in Maryland as the result of bay- or river-related activities. The fatalities were not restricted to the innocent or ignorant, but included experienced boaters who apparently made the correct decisions and died nonetheless.

* Excessive leakage or accumulation of water in the bilge.

Diligent operation

* Avoid excessive speed at all times, with special attention in congested areas, foggy or stormy conditions, in a swimming area, while towing water skiers, or when operating in the vicinity of dams, regattas or marine parades.

* Consider weather and existing conditions before deciding how heavily to load your boat. The heavier the weather, the less likely your boat can be loaded to capacity.

* Don't ride on decks, gunwales or transoms. At each position, there is a likelihood of going overboard. Bow riding may obstruct the vision of the driver.

* Learn the rules governing right of way for power- and sail-driven vessels and adhere to them.

-! * Take a safe boating course.

Capsizing

This is a problem encountered most often in smaller boats, where the weight of the passengers is greater than the weight of the boat. The passengers represent movable ballast, and if that ballast is concentrated at one end or one side of the boat, capsize is likely to occur.

Load your boat evenly, side to side and front to back, and keep the weight evenly distributed while on the water. When loading a small boat, step into the center and not on the edges. When fishing or hunting, avoid standing up in a small boat to shoot or take a fish. Standing causes the center of gravity to rise and makes capsize more likely.

If your boat capsizes and you are not wearing a PFD, grab one and put it on immediately. Stay with the boat and take a head count to ensure that all passengers are accounted for. Most boats have flotation built in. An overturned boat is spotted more easily than part of a torso or only a head bobbing in the water.

Falls overboard

When a person falls overboard, immediately toss him the nearest life preserver -- even if he can swim.

If you are under way when someone goes over, throw a preserver, slow the boat, keep him in view or have others on the boat monitor his location. At night, keep a light trained on the person in the water.

Try to approach a person in the water from downwind, with the wind at your back, or into the waves, whichever will keep the boat from running over or banging into the person in the water.

If another member of the crew must go into the water to assist, be sure he is wearing a PFD and has a safety line securely attached.

Once the person in the water has been located and reached, stop the motor and try to bring the person in over the transom.

Alcohol and boating

It is illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Maryland waters. A .07 percent blood alcohol content qualifies as under the influence and .10 percent for intoxication.

Alcohol consumption alters balance, coordination and vision, all of which are of primary importance when aboard a boat, and each of which is reduced naturally when on the water.

In a small boat, especially, balance is a delicate matter -- and alcohol reduces balance first.

A drunken boater will have great difficulty trying to swim to a PFD, much less try to get it on because of diminished coordination of small muscles.

Vision has been determined to account for 90 percent of the information used in driving a boat. As you drink, the ability of the pupil to control the amount of light entering the eye is reduced, which diminishes sight, especially at night.

Alcohol also relaxes the small muscles that control focus of both eyes and produce depth perception.

Alcohol reduces peripheral vision, which also is diminished by wind generated by high speeds. The result is often tunnel vision.

If all these effects are combined, the result is a very dangerous situation for any boater.

Boating courses

Maryland offers classroom and home study safe boating courses through the Natural Resources Police. The Maryland Basic Boating Course is offered at various locations throughout the state year around, and home study students may take an equivalency exam periodically.

Listings of the Basic Boating Course and the equivalency exams appear in The Sun's Outdoors Journal.

, For more information, write:

Maryland Natural Resources Police

Outdoor Education Program

Tawes State Office Building

Annapolis, Md., 21401

Or call (301) 974-2040.

Approved courses also are available from the U.S. Coast Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadron. For more information, call (800) 336-BOAT.

Monitoring the weather

The best way to monitor weather changes in our area is to watch the sky and to carry a radio that will provide information on forecasts, watches and warnings.

The sky to the Southwest, West and Northwest is the area to watch, because nearly all our weather develops from those directions.

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