If you're in a boat without a life jacket, you could find yourself up a killer creek without a proverbial paddle.
In 1999, there were 655 boating fatalities — all the result of boaters not wearing lifejackets. Hence the slogan for a North American Safe Boating Campaign: Boat Smart From the Start: Wear Your Life Jacket.
The rules of the road apply to the sea: For one, don't drink and drive — or even ride in — a boat.
A boat operator with a blood alcohol level above .10 percent (a level at which a car's driver is considered drunk in all 50 states) is about 10 times as likely to be killed in a boating accident than someone who hasn't been drinking.
"Just about every boat rescue that I've been involved in has had some sort of alcohol involved with it — whether it's the operator or just the people on board," says lifeguard Josh Van Egmond.
Here are some additional safety tips from boating experts:
- Boat with a friend. Two boats are safer than one in case you get in trouble and need to be towed to shore.
- Watch a weather forecast and know water conditions before shipping out.
- Have plenty of drinking water onboard and, if possible, an air horn, standard first-aid kit, fire extinguishers, and a VHF radio so you're prepared to call for help.
- Tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return.
- Stay within your boat's passenger capacity.
- Know whether your passengers can swim.
- Stay near the coastline in case there is an emergency.
- Go out with a full tank of fuel and use no more than a third of a tank to get to your destination, reserving plenty for the way back.
- Follow up-to-date navigational charts.
- Watch water-skiers or others your boat is towing.
- Shut off engines when swimmers are nearby.
Groups such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the American Red Cross offer more than 2,000 safe-boating courses. Find one near you by calling the BoatU.S. Foundation at 1-800-245-2628 or visit the BoatU.S. website.