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Don’t Become Another Boating Statistic

Hotter than normal seasonal temperatures arrived in the Pacific Northwest this month, along with the opening of this year’s boating season, but the cold reality of our water temperatures make it the deadliest month of the year for water-related fatalities.

The U.S. Coast Guard says each year sees an approximate even split between fatalities from boating incidents versus personal watercraft such as paddle boards and kayaks. However, 2015 has already seen nine deaths so far and mostly from rafting, paddle boards and kayaks.




The Coast Guard estimates that over 80% of those fatalities could have been prevented had the person been wearing a lifejacket. That’s because your body goes into immediate shock if you fall into the 40 to 50 degree waters of Puget Sound, and it’s even colder in rivers with winter runoff.

Earlier this month on May 3rd, the Coast Guard rescued three fishermen from a life raft after their fishing vessel, the 52 foot Sea Beast out of Neah Bay, capsized off LaPush near the Quillayute River.

Tragically, the frigid waters claimed the life of the ship’s master, Kenneth (Chester) Martin, who “did everything he could do to keep us alive, and it cost him his life”, wrote Clint Wilson, one of the three men plucked from the life raft.

Our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Kenneth Martin and the entire Makah tribe and people of Neah Bay, Washington.

THE 1-10-1 RULE


The reason why it’s so important to be wearing a life jacket on the water is because of what the Coast Guard calls the 1-10-1 rule and ‘swim failure’ . If you fall into the water in the Sound, your body will go into immediate shock.

In the first minute, just like when you encounter a cold shower, your involuntary reaction will be to take a huge gasp of air, and this could make it difficult for you to catch your breath and may even cause you to swallow water, potentially to the point of drowning.

Then over the course of the next 10 minutes you start losing body heat and gradual control over the use of your arms, legs and hands that are needed to stay afloat or even try to swim.  That last ‘1’ in the rule refers to the 1 hour you might be able to survive before hypothermia settles in. Meteorologist Scott Sistek posted some additional boating safety tips on his blog:


* Have a VHF Radio, not just a cell phone.


This is the best way for your call for help to be heard by a number of people nearby. Lt. Ben Crowell, who commands the U.S. Coast Guard base in Seattle, says to think of a cell phone conversation — that’s only going to be heard between you and the person on the other end. But if you use a VHF radio, your call for help goes out over the region, likely alerting someone close by to your need for rescue and could make the difference. The Coast Guard actively monitors Channel 16 and will be there to help if you get in serious trouble.


* Have a plan — make sure everyone knows about it.  


Make sure before you go out on the water, be it boating, sailing, or paddle boarding, that people know when you’re supposed to be back — and just as critical, alert them to any changes. Crowell says the Coast Guard is full of stories of launching a rescue to search for someone “overdue” who had instead, canceled the trip, forgot to tell anyone, and had been sitting at home watching TV as Puget Sound is criss-crossed by rescue helicopters and boats looking for you. On the other hand, if you’re by yourself, you didn’t bring a VHF radio, and are now alone in the water, they’ll know if something bad did happen sooner.


* Take a class! 


Boating safety classes are already a good idea, but did you know you can also take safety classes for personal watercrafts like kayaks, canoes and paddle boarding? Many people just think it’s easy to just go push a kayak out into the water, but even fairly light winds can create some fairly turbulent waters, and do you know what to do if you spill over? Just Google around and you can find them. A few hours here can make a big difference later.


* Check the weather — especially the winds!


Things change around here, especially in the summer where a 90 degree, sunny, calm day at 3 p.m. can turn into a raging 30 mph wind at 7 p.m. when a marine push comes racing in. Afternoon seabreezes kick up to, so be sure to check the marine forecast from NOAA.

Also be wary if you see in the forecast a hot day followed by a much cooler day — usually those cool downs come with the strong punches of wind in the evening of the final hot day of the heat stretch, especially our days that are 85+. If the forecast shows Monday is going to be 89, Tuesday’s 93 and Wednesday’s 74 — be wary of sudden winds Tuesday evening.


* Get the Coast Guard App (Now available)


On May 16, the U.S. Coast Guard launched a new app for Android and iOS that has a host of important boating safety information as well as a way to send a distress call.

As their website says:

The USCG Boating Safety App features include:


  • Find the latest safety regulations
  • Request a vessel safety check
  • Check your safety equipment
  • File a float plan
  • Navigation Rules
  • Find the nearest NOAA buoy
  • Report a hazard
  • Report pollution
  • Report suspicious activity
  • Request emergency assistance


About the App


homescreen noaabuoysfloatplan

As the nation’s recreational boating safety coordinator, the Coast Guard works to minimize loss of life, personal injury, property damage, and environmental harm. Our boating safety program involves public education programs, regulation of boat design and construction, approval of boating safety equipment, and vessel safety checks for compliance with federal and state safety requirements. The Coast Guard Mobile App supports these missions by providing the essential services and information most commonly requested by boaters.

Features of the app include: state boating information; a safety equipment checklist; free boating safety check requests; navigation rules; float plans; and calling features to report pollution or suspicious activity. When location services are enabled, users can receive the latest weather reports from the closest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather buoys as well as report the location of a hazard on the water.

The app also features an Emergency Assistance button which, with locations services enabled, will call the closest Coast Guard command center.

The Boating Safety Mobile app was not designed to replace a boater’s marine VHF radio, which the Coast Guard strongly recommends all boaters have aboard their vessels. The app was mainly designed to provide additional boating safety resources for mobile device users.

The app is self-contained, so personal information is stored on the phone and is not sent to the Coast Guard unless the user chooses to send it. The Coast Guard does not track a user’s location, and the app does not track a user’s location unless the app is being used.

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