Boating safety week puts an emphasis on minimizing risks


May 21, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY

Those in nautical circles might hear more chatter this week about life jackets, proper boat lighting and navigational know-how.

National Safe Boating Week, which kicked off yesterday, is when safety officials remind seagoing types about the inherent dangers of their hobby and what can be done to minimize risks.

The death Thursday of Hans Horrevoets, a crew member aboard Volvo Ocean Race competitor ABN AMRO TWO who was washed overboard in the Atlantic Ocean, lends a more serious tone to the talk about safety.

While most recreational boaters won't find themselves sailing under the extreme conditions under which the Volvo yachts race, his death is a reminder that water sports can be deadly.

Fourteen people died in boating accidents in Maryland last year, according to the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

We spoke with Virgil Chambers, who is in charge of the National Safe Boating Council, founded in 1958 to promote National Safe Boating Week.

What was your scariest moment on the water?

Personally, I've been pretty lucky. ... I've never been terrified on the water myself.

I know people have some close calls. It brings us back to the purpose of this week.

So what is this week about?

We know that 500 people every year fall out of a boat and drown because they don't have a life jacket on.

It is about promoting life jackets. It is also about taking safe-boating courses.

What do you learn in a safe boating course?

[They] talk about navigation.

Do you need special equipment [on board]? A fire extinguisher? When you buy a boat, they are accessories.

Lights. When do you turn on your lights? It's not like in a car where the lights help you see. On a boat, they are for being seen.

What is speed? Are there speed limits on the water? All of these things are covered in a safe boating course.

Why do people say they don't wear life jackets?

People say, "They are uncomfortable. They restrict me."

But it is like any sport - kids and bike helmets, skateboarders and the gear - any activity that has some inherent risk, you do something to prevent injury should it happen.

Boating safety week has been going on since the 1950s. What's changed over the years?

What we focus on has always been the same. We feel without a doubt we are making headway. There are more people on the water, and there are less fatalities overall.

Technology has changed. A life jacket that I wore when I went out with my dad is a big orange ugly thing. Now they have inflatable [life jackets]. There is really not an excuse to not wear a life jacket anymore.

Do you think people should always wear life jackets?

Absolutely, because you don't know what is going to happen. You might never use it. It protects you when you need it. Same way with a seat belt.

I wear it every conference I go to.

Wait - you wear a life jacket on land?

Even when I'm on land. Many times after the conference I inflate it, and people didn't know that I had it on. It is not cumbersome, it is not restricting, it is not hot and uncomfortable.

[The inflatable life jacket] is not a panacea. It is not the silver bullet. It is not for all situations. If you are kayaking, the foam life jacket is still the best bet.

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