First-Time Boat Owners Need to be Prepared
There's more to safe, happy boating than you might think
Photo courtesy of the National Safe Boating Council
An unprepared boater can get into a risky situation that can quickly become a boating tragedy- Peg Phillips, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council
With vacations, summer camps, and youth sports canceled by the pandemic, more people have bought boats for some summer fun that allows physical distancing from strangers while staying close to home.
About a third of those buyers have never owned a boat, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
“In the era of social distancing, the percentage of first-time buyers in 2020 is up across almost every segment, especially watersports and smaller cruising boats — in other words, boats that are particularly appealing for family recreation,” says Ellen Bradley, senior vice president at Discover Boating, an NMMA publication. “New data reinforces that more Americans are taking to the water, which shows an unprecedented increase in boat sales this summer as people are seeking safe, outdoor recreational activities to enjoy together.”
Anchors Away From COVID-19
US boat sales in June were up 5% over that month last year, more than doubling industry projections. Thanks to pent-up demand from April, when dealers were closed because of the pandemic, new boat sales in May were the highest they’ve been in a decade. The physical act of simply driving a boat in open water is easy. Sit in the seat, steer the wheel, and change your speed with the throttle control. But knowing how to operate a boat safely in various situations while maximizing your enjoyment on the water is something else altogether, says Peg Phillips, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council.
“An unprepared boater can get into a risky situation that can quickly become a boating tragedy,” Phillips says. “The waterways may give the perception of wide-open space for boating, but seconds and inches can make the difference between a perfect day boating and a tragedy.”
Boating is Safe if You're Prepared
Phillips says she has seen paddlers capsize in flat water, passengers fall from a fishing boat, and more boaters than she can count trying to outrun a thunderstorm.
“Boating is generally a safe activity, but with boating comes responsibility,” Phillips says. “Always wear your life jacket, check the forecast before launch, and while on the water, stay hydrated but not with alcohol. Have a pre-launch checklist, and invest in and carry equipment like personal locator beacons and VHF radios.”
For power boaters, some states don’t require a boating safety card if you already have a driver’s license but most do, and it’s the responsibility of the boater to know the law in each state, Phillips says. The US Coast Guard has a webpage to help boaters learn their local rules.
Get Some Training
The Coast Guard recommends its own boater safety app, and Discover Boating recently created a list of recommended apps for new boaters, while noting cell coverage can be spotty on the water and you should never rely completely on a phone for safety.
“Of course, the most important safety message for all boaters is that real boaters wear a life jacket,” Phillips says. “It is the easiest way to keep a boater safe. Akin to wearing a seat belt, donning a life jacket after a capsize is too late.”
I have worked as a reporter at daily newspapers for 25 years, and now cover local government and politics at The South Bend (IN) Tribune. I was honored in 2019 to win the Hoosier State Press Association's Ray Moscowitz Award,which recognizes those who foster advancement of the First Amendment, for my reporting on mismanagement at the city's mass transit agency.
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