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Barhoppers: A boating misadventure.

Like storm clouds on the horizon, the approach of summer heralds a startling rise in boating fatalities across the country as more people take to our nation's waterways for sunshine, relaxation and fun. Boating fatalities peak in the summer, with June and July being the most deadly (103 and 93 deaths, respectively, in 2007).


My experience had a happy ending, but that's no guarantee yours will, so read and heed.

It was a beautiful holiday weekend in Tampa Bay. My family and I planned to spend it island-hopping on the water. My uncle had trailered his boat up from Miami to join us. Because my family hailed from Tampa Bay and spent nearly every weekend on the water, we knew the local waterways very well. My uncle, on the other hand, didn't know the area and was an inexperienced boater.

After spending the day on a very popular island, we loaded up both boats for returning to the marina. We led, while my uncle and cousin trailed in their 17-foot Boston Whaler. A few minutes into our voyage, my uncle decided to deviate from our course after sighting a channel ahead. We slowed to a crawl, giving him a chance to catch up and to ensure he knew the correct route. We still were in the lead and already were in the channel as my uncle's boat approached its entrance.

As we watched, my uncle and cousin headed far right of the red channel markers and into danger. We maintained our slow pace and frantically motioned for them to slow down and to come left. However, they maintained about 20 knots while happily waving back, oblivious to the impending danger.

Their boat was abeam of us when the outboard's lower unit shot out of the water, and the boat suddenly stopped, ejecting my cousin out the front. As he skipped 10 feet across the water, my uncle took the steering wheel in the stomach before pulling the kill switch. Fortunately, neither suffered serious injuries, but both were embarrassed. Meanwhile, the undamaged boat had run aground on a sandbar.

This incident could have been much worse. Here are some lessons we learned from it:

* Avoiding danger, injury or distress while boating begins with preparation.

Many states require a certified boating-safety course before they will issue a license. [Navy and Marine Corps instructions require people who rent boats from Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation or Marine Corps Community Services facilities to be trained and to be evaluated on their qualifications.] Offered nationwide by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron, and other volunteer organizations, these courses are available in person and online. One of the things you'll learn is the Rules of the Road. Knowing even a little about navigation aids would have kept my uncle and cousin off the sandbar. Never rely on a single navigation aid, and remember that buoys can shift position or even drift free from moorings. Carry a chart of the area so you can identify navigation aids.

* Boating and alcohol don't mix. A boat is a vehicle and, like a car, requires dexterity, coordination, and good judgment to operate safely.

* Ensure your boat is stocked with a personal flotation device (PFD) for everyone aboard, full fuel tanks, and emergency equipment. [OpNavInst 5100.25A and MCO 5100.30A require everyone in a Navy MWR- or Marine Corps CS-rented boat under 16 feet in length to wear a PFD while underway. Some states also require children under a certain age to wear a PFD.] You might laugh, but running out of gas isn't funny when you're waiting for a tow back to the marina. Make sure your engine is tuned, and always file a float plan.

Lt. Jon Charlton



* U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety,

* Boating Safety,

* Boating Courses, Boating Tips, Boating Safety, Boating Contests,

The author was assigned to HSL-47 when he wrote this article.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:FOCUS
Author:Charlton, Jon
Date:Jun 22, 2009
Previous Article:Make it fun ... make it safe ... make it back home!
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