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Towing Your Boat
Your boat trailer is an important part of your boating equipment. All too often a trailer does not receive the attention that it demands and deserves. After selection the appropriate trailer for your boat and towing vehicle, proper maintenance and continual care when hitching and towing are necessary. If care and maintenance are neglected, you may be endangering the safety of your boat, your car, your family, yourself and others.
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- Choose the right trailer for your boat. More damage can be done to a boat by the stresses of road travel than by normal water operation. The trailer should be designed to carry the total weight of the hull, engine, equipment, and extra gear normally carried.
- The coupling hitch on the trailer should have a lot or similar device to prevent it from vibrating loose. Periodically lubricate the hitch for longer wear and quieter turns. The trailer should have a least one, preferably two, safety chains strong enough to control the trailer if the hitch should come loose of break. The chains should be securely attached to the towing vehicle at a place separate from the ball and bracket. They should be long enough to allow turning but not long enough to drag on the ground.
- Extra caution is necessary when towing any trailer. The heavier the rig, the more time it takes to accelerate, pass and stop. Most boats on trailers obstruct the rear view of the driver. When this happens, a rear view mirror on each side of the towing vehicle is required by law.
- Make sure your vehicle is capable of towing the trailer. Be sure the engine, transmission, cooling system and brakes can withstand the strain that towing will put on them.
- Out of courtesy to others, and to prevent rushing, prepare your boat for launching away from the ramp.
- If you must leave your vehicle on the ramp, set the parking brake, block the wheels, and set the transmission in “park.”
- Never allow anyone to stand in line with the winch cable when it’s in operation or has a strain on it.
Equipping Your Boat
Contrary to popular thinking the most important equipment aboard your boat is not that expensive rod and reel or the new water skis; it’s the safety equipment. For your safety, and the safety of your passengers, consult this checklist before leaving the dock.
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- Spare batteries
- Anchor and line
- Sound signaling device
- Paddle and bailer/bucket
- Personal Flotation Devices
- Skier down signal flag
- Emergency drinking water
- Fire extinguishers
- Compass and chart
- First aid kit
- Extra fuel
- Spare parts
Before Getting Underway
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- Consult the checklist. Make sure you have all necessary safety equipment. Make sure fire extinguishers aboard are in working order- that gauges register and nozzles are clear. Make sure that all passengers know where safety equipment is, and how to operate it.
- Then refueling, close all hatches, ports and other openings; shut off all engines and motors; and refrain from smoking. Fill all portable tanks on the dock.
- Operate the bilge blower for at least FOUR MINUTES before starting an inboard engine. If you smell fumes, don’t start the engine. Find out what is causing them and make repairs before starting the engine.
- Don’t go out if weather conditions are bad or storms threaten. In most areas you can call Directory Assistance and ask for the marine weather broadcast telephone number to get a complete weather forecast before you set out.
- Leave a Float Plan with someone. A Float Plan is an easy way to avoid unnecessary search and rescue, and may save your life. An example Float Plan has been included at the back of this booklet. Fill out your Float Plan and leave it with a responsible person. If you are seriously overdue, they should only notify local authorities. Cancel the Float Plan when you return ashore.
- Make sure that flammable items are stowed safely and cannot come into contact with cooking or heating appliances or hot engine parts.
- Be sure heating and cooking appliances on board are secured and operate properly.
- Distribute weight properly, especially if you have a small boat. Do not overload. Load low and spread the load around.
While You Are Boating
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- Be especially careful if you have a small boat (a boat 20’ or under). The overwhelming majority of capsizings occur on small boats because of sudden weight shifts.
- Keep a good lookout. Failure to do so causes most collisions. You need a second person to act as lookout if towing a skier. The lookout should indicate a fallen skier by raising a brightly colored flag.
- Travel at safe speeds. Give swimmers, skiers and divers a wide berth.
- Don’t ride on the bow or gunwales. Also, never ride on seat backs or in any other unsteady position.
- Always use lights in fog, bad weather and at night. I fog or areas of reduces visibility, you must give a prolonged blast (4-6) seconds at least once every two minutes.
- Know who has the right of way. In general large boats, tugs, barges an fishing vessels have the right way over other boats. Sailboats, rowboats, and canoes have the right of way over motorboats. Any boat being overtaken (passed) has the right of way.
- Pay attention to markers. The expression “red right returning” has long been use as a reminder that the red buoys should be on the right, the starboard side of our boat, when proceeding from the open sea into the dock (upstream). Likewise, green buoys are left, to the port side, when going upstream. For more information on the nautical traffic signs in your area, contact local boating officials.
- If you are in distress, or are observing another vessel i distress, transmit the international Distress Call on VHF channel 16, “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY.” State our vessel’s name, where you are, what is wrong, kind of assistance needed, and your listening frequency and schedule. The Coast Guard also monitors CB and channel 9 whenever resources permit such monitoring. VHF channel 16 is constantly monitored.
- Choose a safe spot to anchor - one that’s well protected, has water of a suitable depth and a flat bottom. Never anchor from the stern.
- Don’t pollute the water with leaking oil or fuel, litter or toilet discharge. It’s illegal to pollute.
- If you are involved in an accident, you must provide your name, address, and vessel registration number to other involved parties, provide assistance to any injured person, and in case of death or disappearance, report the accident without delay to law enforcement officials.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
What is PFD? A Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is the cheapest form in insurance you can buy. It’s a jacket, a vest, a cushion, or a ring buoy, that will serve as a lifesaving aid.
Most boating accidents involve falls overboard, capsizing or sinking. A properly fitted and correctly used PFD can save your life. Recent statistics reveal that over 80 percent of boating related deaths result from drowning. These boaters probably would have lived had they been wearing a PFD.
Children, the elderly and non-swimmers should always wear their life jackets while the boat is underway. In rough water it’s recommended that all persons wear they PFDs. Persons water skiing should always wear a PFDs.
When boating in cold water, PFDs should be worn AT ALL TIMES. Cold water can numb the extremities and limit reflexes almost immediately. Should you be plunged into cold water, you may not have the opportunity or the ability to put on a PFD.
Each passenger on board should know where the PFDs are located and should be sure their wearable device fits properly. It’s a good idea to hold a practice emergency drill on the proper use of PFDs at least once a year. Practice swimming and floating while wearing a PFD. Try putting one on while in the water.
Families should mark each person’s device with their name and stow it with the name facing up in an accessible, well-ventilated area out of the sun. Children’s PFDs should be checked periodically for proper fit.
Remember that a PFD is considered an aid: it should not be considered a substitute for good swimming ability.
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As a team, the boat operator, skier, and observer need to learn safe skiing skills, Before your team hits the water, know your equipment, teamwork, boating laws, and the fundamentals of the sport:
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- Know and use hand signals.
- Before pulling up the skier, double check the path ahead for obstacles and make sure the towline is not caught in the propeller or wrapped around the skier.
- When a skier falls, raise a brightly colored flag and return without delay. Other boaters may not easily see a skier in the water.
- When making a pickup, approach with caution from the driver’s side so the skier is always in view and on your side of the boat. NEVER back up to a person in the water.
- The engine should be shut off when your are near the skier so there is no danger from the propeller.
Personal water craft (PWC) ownership is growing by almost 40 percent per year. And, as a result, the number of PWC-related accidents are increasing. As a PWC operator, you are a member of the boating community and must abide by the basic rules of boating safety and etiquette. You should know who to swim and how to operate your PWC before venturing out on the water. Be aware that certain states also have minimum age requirements for PWC operators.
Here are a few suggestions:
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- Familiarize yourself with your vessels by reading the owner’s manual and practicing operation of the engine.
- When operating your PWC, wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
- Let someone on shore know where you are heading and when you’ll return.
- Go slowly near shore and drive defensively in congested areas, where collisions most frequently occur.
- Never operate your PWC between a water-skier and the ski boat.
- Because your PWC is not equipped with running lights, operating after dark is illegal.
Water Survival Tips
Use your PFD! Sudden immersion in cold water can cause rapid breathing, heart stoppage, and other problems that result in helplessness and drowning. Wearing a PFD is the only defense. A properly fitted and correctly use PFD can save your life.
Know how to swim. If your don’t know how, LEARN. Sign up for a swimming course today if you need to learn how to swim, or want to improve you skills. Contact a local YMCA, YWCA, or recreation department for information.
Stay with the boat. Shore is usually more distant than it appears. In most capsizings, chances of survival and being found are better if you stay with the boat (even if you are a good swimmer).
Do not disrobe in panic. It’s a common belief that someone dressed in heavy clothing will sink immediately if they fall overboard. This is not true. Air trapped in clothing provides considerable flotation. Bending the knees will trap air, providing additional flotation. To stay afloat, remain calm, do not thrash about or try to remove clothing or footwear, this leads to exhaustion and increases the loss of air that keeps you afloat. Keep your knees bent, float on your back and paddle slowly to safety.
Prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia is the loss of body heat, it’s a life-threatening condition! Your clothing with help trap heat. Avoid moving as much as possible. If several people are in water, huddle together so you can conserve heat and stay alive. If your boat capsizes it will likely float on or just below the surface. To reduce the effects of hypothermia get out of the water as much as possible. If you can’t get in the boat, a PFD will enable you to keep your head out of the water. This is very important because about 50 percent of body heat loss is from the head.
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Alcohol and Boating
Operating a boat is at least as complicated as driving a car, and a boating accident can be just as dangerous as an automobile accident. Yet many people who would never drive drunk think it’s safe to operate their boat after drinking. It isn’t. In fact, 16 percent of all boating fatalities involve alcohol use.
Many boaters are not aware of the fact that the effect of alcohol can be more pronounced in the operation of a boat than in the operation of an automobile. This is due to the various stress factors - boat and engine noise, sun, glare, wave action, temperature and wind. When these stress factors are combined with alcohol, the hazards associated with boat operation are intensified.
Alcohol can cause blurred, split or tunnel vision. After a few drinks boaters also begin to lose their ability to judge their degree of impairment and become overconfident, taking risks. This factor combined with other effects of alcohol - loss of judgment and coordination and decrease in reaction time - leads to the inability to react appropriately to a dangerous situation.
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The best advice is to let someone sober operate the boat - for your safety and the safety of others.
First Aid Do's and Don'ts for Hypothermia
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- Do get the victim our of the water as soon as possible.
- Do give artificial respiration if necessary.
- Do gently remove the wet clothing and wrap the victim in warm blankets or a sleeping bag.
- Do try to keep the person awake.
- Do get medical help immediately.
- Don’t give the victim alcohol or war liquids. They don’t help warm the person and the can pose a choking hazard.
- Don’t massage the victim in an attempt to get blood circulating.
Boat Safety Education
Free Boating Safety Classes, explaining required and recommended equipment for small boats and offering training in good seamanship are offered throughout the U.S. by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons and certain chapters of the American Red Cross. Boaters can call the Coast Guard toll-free line, 800-368-5647 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday to learn the location of the nearest boating education class.
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You may be eligible for an insurance discount by enrolling in Boating Safety courses identified as “state-administered courses approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard.”
Safeguard Your Boat
Identify Your Property
- To aid in identifying your property, engrave your driver’s license number on all equipment.
- Take photographs of both the exterior and interior of your boat, then date and sign each of the photos
- Compile a complete inventory of all of your boat items including electronic equipment, engines, trailer and of course, the boat. Be sure to include brand names, models, and serial numbers.
- Remove all portable equipment when your boat is not in use.
- Invest in transom or stern drive locks, padlocks for hatches, and strong chains for auxiliary motors.
- Install dependable quality window locks and keep the window curtains closed.
Prevent Theft of Trailerable Boats
- Do not use a business parking lot to store your boat. It is an easy target for thieves.
- Store your boat/trailer in a locked garage.
- If you store it in your yard, use the side yard or back yard out of sight. If possible, chain it to a tree or pole.
- Store your boat/trailer with the trailer tongue not readily accessible.
- If you store your boat/trailer in an open driveway, use a trailer lock, remove one of the trailer wheels, or park another vehicle in front of the trailer.
Prevent Vandalism in Your Marina
- Get to know your dock neighbors and the harbormaster.
- Start to take part in a “dock watch” program.
- Exchange home and business phone numbers with your marina neighbors.
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