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9 Things You Should Do to Stay Safe When Boating and Swimming

With spring break upon us and summer only a few months away, many people have already begun making plans to spend some time swimming or boating in nearby St. Johns River, at a local pool or at one of the many beaches along the Atlantic coast.

Due to Jacksonville’s close proximity to so many bodies of water and its pleasant climate, water-related activities are extremely popular year-round. These activities are meant to be fun, but it is crucial that you know how to keep your family safe from the risk of boating accidents, drowning and serious injuries.

According to the most recent recreational boating statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 4,062 boating accidents in a single year, resulting in 560 people losing their lives. An additional 2,620 people sustained injuries in recreational boating accidents that year.

If you are planning to go boating or swimming, you can minimize your risk of injury and help keep yourself and loved ones safe by following these 9 safety rules:

  1. Wear a life jacket.
    All boats are required to have one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person aboard. In Florida, children under the age of 6 are required to wear a life jacket at all times when traveling in any vessel under 26 feet in length. As life jackets are not one-size-fits-all, it is important to make sure you have the right size jacket before you head out on the water.A life jacket can help you stay afloat and survive in the event:

    • Your boat capsizes in rough water.
    • Your boat begins to take on water in bad weather or treacherous conditions.
    • You are thrown from the boat in a collision.
    • Your boat hits rocks or any other submerged object.
    • You fall overboard after being overcome by carbon monoxide fumes.
    • You fall or are thrown off the boat.
    • You lose your balance and fall overboard.
    • You are having difficulty swimming or staying afloat due to exhaustion or waterlogged clothes.
  2. Do not drink if you plan to be involved in water-related activities. “Don’t drink and drive” applies to boating as much as it does to getting behind the wheel of a car. You do not want your judgment or reaction time to be impaired while piloting a watercraft. Even if you are not at the helm, refraining from drinking can help you stay alert and aware so you can react quickly should you find yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation.
  3. Swim only in designated areas with proper supervision. You should swim only in designated areas with proper supervision. Ideally a lifeguard will be present, but if there is no lifeguard on duty, it is important that you designate a lookout.The lookout would be responsible not only for monitoring all the swimmers in your group, but also watching for any potential hazards or dangers posed by boaters, jet skiers and others.Supervision must be constantly maintained to maintain safety, so make sure you avoid distractions when supervising others.Never swim alone. Always require swimmers to stay with a buddy.Children or swimmers with little experience may wear life jackets to help protect them, however these should not be relied on as the only safety measure.
  4. Bring a charged cell phone and marine radio with you. While nobody wants to have a boating accident or land in a difficult situation, it is essential for you to come prepared. Bring a charged cell phone and VHF (very high frequency) marine two-way radio with you when boating. Depending on how far you are from shore, a VHF marine radio can often be the most effective way to reach help in an emergency. The Coast Guard monitors VHF radios 24 hours a day, particularly Channel 16, which is reserved for distress calls, safety alerts and emergencies.
  5. Take extra precautions when boating or swimming with young children. If you are planning to go boating or swimming with young children, extra precautions must be taken. Parents should teach their children:
    • Basic swimming skills.
    • How to tread water.
    • How to float.
    • To stay close to the shoreline.
    • To stay away from water unless they are with an adult (older children need to know to swim with a buddy at all times).
    • To always have proper supervision when swimming.
    • To swim only in designated areas.
    • The difference between swimming in a pool as compared to open water.
    • About rip tides, undertows, currents and more.
    • Pool safety rules.
    • What to do in an emergency.
    • How to perform CPR.

    Other precautions parents can take when boating or swimming with young children include:

    • Ensure a backyard pool has a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate.
    • CPR training is essential for families with pools or visiting pools.
    • Do not rely on swimming aids and other flotation devices.
    • Provide constant supervision without distraction.
  6. Never overestimate swimming or boating skills. Even though you may be able to swim and tread water, it is important you never overestimate your skills and abilities – or those of your children.This is true whether boating or swimming. Florida has one of the highest swimming pool drowning death rates in the nation.The Coast Guard attributes the majority of boating accidents to alcohol or drug use, speeding, reckless behavior and boat operatordistraction, among others.People who overestimate their abilities and skills are far more likely to be involved in a serious accident.Cold water, inclement weather and numerous other factors can have an impact on your ability to stay safe following a boating accident or other water-related incident. Get yourself properly educated and trained. Individuals born after Dec. 31, 1987 must obtain a Boating Safety Education ID Card before being allowed to legally operate a boat in Florida. The training program that allows young people to attain this ID could save a life.
  7. Avoid unnecessary distractions. Any time you are around a swimming pool, stream, river, lake, the ocean or even a waterpark, it is vital for you to avoid unnecessary distractions. Distractions from watching children for even a moment could lead to tragedy. It can take just a few seconds for a child, or even an adult, to disappear from view.
  8. Have proper safety equipment and gear. In addition to having a charged cell phone and VHF marine two-way radio and life jackets for each person aboard, boaters are also advised to make sure the boat has:
    • A first-aid kit.
    • A bell or whistle.
    • Visual distress signals.
    • A fire extinguisher.
    • A grabbing or hooking device.
    • Plenty of drinkable water.
    • Emergency food stores.
    • Ventilation.
  9. Stay out of the water in bad weather. Another essential part of staying safe when boating or swimming is staying out of the water in bad weather.When weather conditions are poor it can cause seas to become rough, water to get choppy, waves to increase in size and visibility to be drastically reduced.The risks you could face tend to increase greatly in stormy weather.Lightning can cause serious injury or even death to those in the water and along its shores. Bacteria and other harmful materials are also commonly washed into the ocean and nearby waterways when it rains, so avoiding water-related activities for at least 24 hours following a storm is advised.


9 Things You Should Do to Stay Safe When Boating and Swimming infographic