Bonnie Russell, an independent legal publicist, still remembers her first day sailing years ago – the day she fell overboard into the San Francisco Bay without a life jacket.
Although she had her wisdom teeth removed the day before, she said she was invited by friends to go sailing on the first day of winter and accepted their offer. She spent the first little while sleeping, but later that afternoon she felt better and decided to pose for some pictures.
While posing, Russell said a sudden wave emerged and slapped the side of the boat, causing her to lose her balance. She quickly tried to grab the boom to hang on, but missed it by inches.
“Going over the stanchion backwards, as I looked at the water I remember thinking, ‘Oh boy – this is going to be cold,’” she said.
After she surfaced, she said she instinctively began swimming toward the boat. However, it was gaining quite a bit of distance from her and she quickly realized she would drown if she kept trying to go after it. Although someone was spotting her, they forgot to throw a life ring to her.
Russell said the wind began to pick up and she saw the sail on the boat coming down as they turned the motor on. All that was on her mind was a story her friend in the Coast Guard told her about snagging a shark in the bay while fishing.
“I focused on floating as high up in the water as possible, and not panicking as I wondered how far into the Bay sharks came,” she said.
Russell said a man that liked her jumped overboard and attempted to rescue her despite the disapproval from the rest of the boaters on board. Because he had been drinking, she refused his offer to save her and swim to Berkeley.
Her rescuer ended up being a friend who was actually on the boat, she said. Once they caught up to her, she tried to climb up the ladder and was pulled on board. The entire rescue effort took about eight minutes.
“Everyone commented how small I looked in the water,” she said. “I was too cold too unzip my parka, and wasn’t talking much as my teeth were chattering at a pretty good clip.”
Russell said the man that jumped in after her made it back onto the boat, but he was in shock and partly hypothermic. Later on the friends discovered a photo that was taken of the man jumping overboard and one of the other men on board shouting “NO!”
Although she said she still sails, Russell offers two basic rules she learned from that day. One, don’t swim after the boat. Two?
“Remember it’s the guy in the boat who will save you, not the guy who jumps in the water,” she said.
If there’s one thing former Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway Water Patrol Officer Adam Lucas has learned, it’s that you don’t need to be in the water to have a boating accident.
Running late one morning, he said he quickly hooked up a patrol boat to his truck and rushed to the lake to meet with another officer. While traveling across a rough bridge, he noticed an unusually loud sound. Naturally, he glanced into his rear view mirror.
“I saw my boat going left when my truck was still going straight,” he said. “The trailer had come off its hitch and was dragging on the safety chains behind the truck.”
Panicking, Lucas said he slammed on the breaks, which caused the trailer to slam into the back of his truck and damage the tailgate. Although no one was injured, his pride suffered quite a bit.
“The worst part of the whole experience was that my supervisor made me investigate my own accident and file an accident report that showed I was at fault for ‘failure to give full time and attention’”, he said.
Lucas said this experience taught him to always double checking a tow hitch to make sure it is properly secured. In addition, the tow chains must be fastened correctly. In his case they were, otherwise the person in the car behind his could have been seriously injured.
Another scary experience he said he had was when his coworker, dressed in full duty gear, fell overboard while trying to get a dog back on board. Because it was spring and the water was cold, the shock of falling in sucked up most of her strength.
“What made this scary was that the boat didn’t have a swim platform or any type of ladder to get her back in,” he said. “The shore was about a half mile away and she wasn’t wearing a life jacket.”
Using a rocking technique he learned during boating training, Lucas pushed his coworker into the water and pulled her up higher and higher as momentum built. Eventually, he was able to pull her over the stern and subsequently rescue the dog.
He said the most important safety tips are to steer all blind corners extra wide, wear a life jacket while on the water, and drink plenty of water while boating. As for the latter, cool breezes often mask heat exhaustion, which was their most common EMS call.
As one last piece of advice, Lucas said people should not think they won’t get caught or charged with a DWI while boating. Boating can be more dangerous than driving a car, especially if there is alcohol involved.
“During the summer, we made just as many boating DWI arrests as my fellow road officers made on the street,” he said.
We’ve chatted with a few people and asked what they believe the most important boating safety tips are. Here’s what one of them had to say:
Brian Kempf, Marine Services, State of New York
- Wear your life jacket
- Take a safe boating class
- Never boat and drink
- Always let others know where you’re going
- Bring a sound producing device
- Bring a phone or VHF radio
- Always dress for water temperatures
In addition, Kempf said National Safe Boating Week is essential for reinforcing the important considerations to be aware of before heading out into the water. Lack of life jackets or not wearing them when required are among the most noted violations, and they are essential to have on.
“Being prepared for unexpected water immersion greatly increases your chances of survival,” he said.
The most important point to take away is situational awareness, he said. That means paying attention to the waters, locales, weather, and remoteness.
Next week we will return with more posts on boating tips and cautionary boating tales, but we just wanted to offer a quick weekend update to refresh your memory on some of the important events happening.
Don’t forget today is the official start of the 2012 National Safe Boating Week and it runs through the 25th. Take a look at the Safe Boating Campaign website for more information, to join, or to see events.
Today also is the third-annual “Ready, Set, Wear It!” Life Jacket World Record Day. Everyone is looking to beat the 2011 record of 1,685 life jackets worn worldwide.
The National Safe Boating Week kickoff isn’t just about setting a record, however – everyone who spends time on the water is encouraged to find the perfect, properly fitting life jacket. There are numerous options based on comfort, build, and need.
Take this opportunity to refresh your own boating knowledge and share with others. It’s never too early to teach children about boating safety, nor is it a bad time to give your own boat a safety check. Businesses or clubs in your city also may be holding events in honor of National Safe Boating Week.
Hopefully the weather is beautiful for all of you this weekend! See you here on Monday!
In honor of “Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day,” a National Safe Boating Week initiative to demonstrate how easy it is to wear a life jacket, some of us here at Manitou Pontoons are wearing our personal flotation devices on the job.
We even took pictures and figured you might enjoy seeing them:
Don’t forget the National Safe Boating Council encourages participants to post their photos to the “Ready, Set, Wear it!” Facebook Wall or email the photos to email@example.com. Show others that you “Wear It!”
Remember to stay tuned next week for more stories and safety tips! In the meantime, be safe on and off the water!
As part of our series of posts on safe boating, we will be presenting four real stories of people who have had dangerous or scary boating experiences. These individuals have shared these tales in hopes of helping others who may encounter the same situations. Regardless of whether or not an accident is unavoidable, the most important factor is what’s ultimately learned from it.
There’s one unsettling boating experience Nevada resident Ken Beckstead will never forget.
While waterskiing at Kings River, he said he suddenly saw a jet boat traveling toward a narrow part of the river. The boat was equipped with a jetovator, a device that sprays water out of a jet propulsion system. Because the spray is about 50 feet high and 200 feet back, it cannot be traveled through due to risk of bodily harm.
Although Beckstead was able to get to the side of the river and away from the jet boat, he said other boaters had no escape route. One of the trapped boats contained children.
“The jet boat actually went over the top of the boat with kids in a side on collision,” he said. “The kids were pressed down in their boat by the jet boat hull.”
Ambulances were called, and there were no serious injuries, Beckstead said. However, it remains an example of how some people get terrible results from showing off their fast boats at the worst times.
“Luckily the jet boat had no external propeller,” he said. “The kids would have been cut to pieces.”
He said he remembers another similar story of a man on a jet ski who left the shore and was suddenly side impacted by a boat traveling about 60 miles per hour. No one saw the man lying face down in the water except Beckstead’s friend on shore.
“It was too far to swim out to the guy,” he said. “He died before anyone in the water saw him.”
He said although he has owned different kinds of freshwater and ocean boats for the past thirty years, he never utilized fast speeds unless he was the only boat around for at least a mile. If the motor in any jet propelled vessel suddenly dies, the driver has no control over steering or braking.
He suggests never letting anyone without experience drive a boat because the wakes can sink a boater not familiar with crossing waves correctly. In addition, people should scan around their boat at least every minute for their own safety.
“The best advice I can give is to take a safe boating class,” Beckstead said. “Once you actually get on the water there is only one rule, never trust anyone.”
National Safe Boating Week takes place this year from May 19 to May 25with the purpose of educating individuals about the importance of boater safety and life jacket use, according to the National Safe Boating Council, Inc., or NSBC.
The NSBC began in 1958 as the National Safe Boating Committee and their purpose was to plan for each year’s National Safe Boating Week, said Rachel Johnson, Communications Director at the NSBC. A few years later, an official resolution was passed that designated the full week before Memorial Day weekend National Safe Boating Week.
She said one of the main educational and outreach efforts of the NSBC is the “Wear It!” campaign.
“The campaign is designed to educate boaters about the importance of always wearing a life jacket while boating and offering them information on the different styles that are available so they can choose the right life jacket for their boating lifestyle,” she said.
According to the NSBC, drowning was the reported cause of death in almost 75 percent of all boating fatalities and 88 percent of those were reported as not wearing life jackets. To kick off National Safe Boating Week, the third-annual “Ready, Set, Wear It!” Life Jacket World Record Day will take place on Saturday, May 19.
“The goal of “Ready, Set, Wear It!” is not only to beat the 2011 record of 1,685 life jackets worn throughout the world, but to promote the comfortable and versatile options when it comes to life jackets and to educate the public about life jackets and safe boating in general,” Johnson said.
Prior to the start of National Safe Boating Week, individuals are encouraged to wear their life jackets to work on Friday, May 18, and take a photo of it, according to the NSBC. Participants are encouraged to share their photos with others and post them on the “Ready, Set, Wear It!” Facebook wall.
According to the NSBC, this initiative demonstrates how easy it is to wear a life jacket and helps spread the word about life jacket use.
According to statistics on boating fatalities from the United States Coast Guard, there has been a steady decrease in boating fatalities since about 1960. This supports the claim that boating has gotten safer since the first national observance of NSBW.
Our infographic below displays boating injuries and deaths from 2006 to 2010, and the data show the same pattern of steady decrease.
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