NEW ORLEANS — Labor Day marks the unofficial end to the boating season, but the Coast Guard reminds Gulf Coast boaters to boat smart and boat safe as the season changes.
Since October 2010, the Coast Guard along with other federal, state and local agencies responded to 6,982 cases in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi and the Western river systems. Some of the search and rescue cases included: 22 sunken vessels, 10 vessel fires, assisted 3,237 lives and saved $11,225,289 in property. As a result, the Coast Guard and other assisting and cooperating agencies were able to save 496 lives.
To save lives and enhance boating safety awareness, the Coast Guard would like the boating public to remember the word TELL when boating:
T - Tell someone where you are going. File a float plan with family or a friend. A float plan states where you are going and how many people are aboard your vessel, gives a complete vessel description, and details your destination and when you plan to return. Float plans aid rescuers in identifying a search area in the event of an emergency while on the water. CLICK HERE FOR A TEMPLATE.
E - Emergency signaling devices such as red flares enhance visibility during times of distress.
L - Life jackets keep a person's head out of the water and increase the chance of survival.
L - Lights such as flashlights increase visibility for first responders to locate a person in distress. With the aid of night vision goggles, Coast Guard pilots can locate a person shining a flashlight from five to 10 miles away.
The Coast Guard asks boat operators to take preventative measures to ensure their own safety, safety of passengers as well as other boaters.
"Recreational boating deaths continue to be one of the most difficult issues to hear about in my job," said Rear Adm. Roy A. Nash, commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District. "Tragically, many of those deaths are preventable. I urge boaters to follow a few simple rules: 1) check the weather before you go out, 2) tell someone where you're going, 3) wear lifejackets, and 4) carry a radio in case you need to call for assistance. These seemingly simple steps are the most effective actions you can take to make sure you return safely."
Safe boating awareness could save a life. Most boating fatalities occur on boats where the operator has not completed a boating safety education course. Courses given by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadrons cover many aspects of boating safety, from boat handling to reading the weather.
According to Coast Guard statistics, 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing their life jackets. In an emergency, there is no time to put on a life jacket, so wearing one at all times is very important. Today's technologically advanced life jackets are inconspicuous; some even double as fishing vests or jackets.
Another aspect of safe boating is not operating a boat under the influence. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. There are stringent penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail terms.
In an effort to reduce the number of incidents on the water and to increase the safety of people on the water, the Coast Guard recommends the following:
Protect yourself against hypothermia and invest in a dry suit or other Coast Guard-approved full-body floatation survival gear. Although Gulf Coast water temperatures are still relatively warm during the end of summer, the threat of hypothermia is still great. The human body reacts to 50 to 60-degree water the same way as it does in 70 to 80-degree water with prolonged exposure. As soon as a person's core body temperature drops below 95 degrees, hypothermia sets in and occurs 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. A person in the water not wearing a life jacket can lose body heat from efforts to remain afloat. Once the shivering stops, the body is no longer able to heat itself, and the person can lose consciousness and drown.
Be sure to check the local weather prior to departing the dock. Weather can change very rapidly and boaters should keep a watchful eye on the forecasted conditions.
The Coast Guard urges mariners to outfit their boat with a functioning marine-band radio, as cell phones are typically an unreliable source of communication due to gaps in coverage and limited battery life. Using channel 16 on a marine-band radio is the most reliable way to communicate a distress to search and rescue personnel in the event of an emergency while on the water.
Emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) provide boaters an excellent enhancement with regard to safety during an offshore voyage. In the event of an emergency, the beacon can transmit the boat's position and other identifying information that will aid in expediting the rescue.
For further boating safety information, check online at one of the following:
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: http://www.cgaux.org/
Vessel Safety Checks: http://www.cgaux.org/vsc/
Coast Guard Boating Safety page: http://www.uscgboating.org/
National Safe Boating Council: http://www.safeboatingcouncil.org/
U.S. Power Squadrons: http://www.usps.org/
Editor’s Note: Media interested in conducting interviews with Coast Guard personnel about safe boating practices should contact the Eighth Coast Guard District External Affairs Office at 504-671-2020. To contact the Duty Public Affairs Specialist after normal business hours, call 618-225-9008.