Boating accidents on our Georgia coast, some with fatalities, have been in the news lately and it seems, more frequently than in years past.
Local boating safety issues can be attributed to many things. Our growing population of boaters is a major factor along with a demonstrated lack of knowledge in basic boating safety and skills, an absence of “Local” knowledge and often, an absence of common sense! Speed is a major cause of serious boating accidents on the Georgia coast. With few exceptions, there are no speed limits and no authority to slow you down if you are speeding or driving recklessly.
The “online” boating safety course is in many cases required before you can operate a boat in Georgia waters. It will not necessarily prepare you for overcoming absence of “Local knowledge” which would include an understanding of currents, tides, constantly changing depths in waters along our coast and a multitude of hazards that might be new to some boaters.
We have an abundance of oyster rakes and crab traps. Both the oyster rakes and the traps can destroy an aluminum prop, tear up your hull and cost you an expensive tow and repairs. Buy a steel prop for Georgia waters.
Georgia’s five big rivers flowing swiftly from far inland to the ocean can present special challenges with partially submerged debris, I.E. floating logs. If you are in any of those rivers you must keep a constant lookout.
The skipper/captain is legally responsible for the safety of his/ her passengers. That responsibility extends to other nearby boaters. The helmsman/skipper of a boat must be constantly aware of what is around and especially in front of them. That would include dolphins, sea turtles and manatees. They all have the right of way!
Have a crew member assist in navigating. What is in front of you such as sandbars or sunken objects can very quickly be under or through your hull! If another boat is exceeding a safe speed, for instance on a blind curve or in low visibility, (listen to the engine RPMs). Stop or slow down. Use lighting (flashing light) and noise (air horn) to show your position. Don’t play chicken!
Most coastal boaters are respectful of each other and practice safe boating. A skipper is legally responsible for any damage his wake causes. Inevitably there will be a snowbird’s 50 foot trawler ploughing through at top speed on the ICW trying to clear the Georgia coast before low tide! They can be throwing both a bow wake and a stern wake and your 20 footer may not handle either very well, especially if you are anchored.
It is said that there is nothing like a cold beer on a hot day on the water. One reason there is nothing like it is because of the swiftness with which alcohol affects people in boats. One beer consumed on the water is estimated to equal three on land. (Mayo Clinic Research) Look at your wife and babies and friends and leave the alcohol consumption for another day.
I have lost track as to how many times over the years that we have come across boaters with one or more missing pieces of necessary equipment. No cover from the sun, no water, no gas, no radio, no flares, not enough life jackets or right sized ones. There they are, high and dry on a mud bar waiting for the incoming tide to float them again. Stay in the boat! You might just wade into that deep water and disappear or perhaps find a razor sharp oyster shell. Don’t depend on your gas gage unless you are very sure of its accuracy then use less than half a tank going out. Changes in weather and especially the tide will have a direct effect on fuel consumption.
Getting stuck on a sandbar or mud bar waiting as much as 8 to 10 hours on a rising tide to float you off can be life threatening. Try finding your way back to a strange dock in strange waters in the dark! That’s after surviving hours of hot sun and more hours of cold night and, oh yes! Kids on board! Go slow in strange waters. Rule of thumb. IF you slide up on a sandbar slowly there is a good possibility that you can slide right back off!
Can’t call Sea Tow. No radio. Can’t call anyone because the cell phone battery is dead or there is no signal. Can’t send a distress signal because there are no flares. The marina doesn’t even know you are overdue because there is no float plan, much the same as a flight plan.
Ok, I confess, I have learned the depth of the bottom out there through the “touch” system more than once! I also found out the hard way how much gas my hog of an inboard/ outboard burned one way! Then there was that time the batteries in my cell phone maintained a charge just long enough for me to call for help. Help didn’t have a boat! I still had to row a fat boat with a short paddle half the night!
Roy Hubbard, Richmond Hill