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Outdoors & Recreation
Safe Boating
Lessons learned from 2009 tragedy
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Photo courtesy of the FWC
The U.S. Coast Guard locates only one survivor after a massive two-day search. This boat capsized Feb. 28, 2009, about 25 miles west of St. Petersburg.
On Feb. 28, 2009, four friends, who were stronger and healthier than most of us, left Clearwater Pass on their 21-foot boat for a day of fishing.

Only one returned after the U.S. Coast Guard following an exhaustive search that lasted almost 48 hours rescued him, clinging to the hull of the overturned boat in the frigid water. As with many tragic accidents, this one could almost certainly have been avoided by simply being aware of inherent dangers in boating.

The following are some basic things boaters need to be aware of to operate safely.

1. Pay attention to the weather. As serious as bad weather can be on land, it will usually be more dangerous if you are on the water. High winds, lightning and heavy seas, among many other things, can develop rapidly and threaten your life and those of all on board a boat. You need not only respect the sea, but also respect the weather. Check your marine weather radio and local newscasts every time before you take your boat out.

2. If you go offshore, get an EPIRB. An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) may save your life. They are available online and at most local boating equipment stores. They can range in cost from about $350 to well over $1,000 depending on how much you wish to spend, but no matter what the cost, offshore boaters can’t afford to be without one. They can literally mean the difference between life and death on the sea. Some EPIRBs activate automatically and can provide the Coast Guard with an almost instantaneous readout of your exact location. In the best of conditions, people in the water can be difficult for rescuers to see, and in heavy seas they can be almost impossible to locate, unless you have an EPIRB.

3. File a float plan! This is a lot simpler than it sounds and basically is letting someone you know what your plans are and how to contact you. You can download and print out of the U.S. Coast Guard approved Float Plan at www.floatplancentral.org. You can complete all of the basic information on the form before you print it, and then simply write in the information on your individual boating trips. In addition, the download contains a boating emergency guide.

4. Learn basic boating and safety skills. While experienced and trained boaters can and do make mistakes, I remain astonished at the incompetence and lack of basic boating knowledge of many people at the helm of a boat. Unless you have the knowledge and skill to handle a boat and any of the hundreds of things that can go wrong, it can and often does lead to unnecessary property damage, injury and often the loss of life. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a free course, with a nominal book charge, entitled “Boating Skills and Seamanship.” If you are a new boater or an experienced one that would like a refresher course or just want to learn about boating, there can be few better ways to spend two hours a week. For more information or to register, call 898-1324 or email foglejcgaux@tampabay. rr.com.

Just do it. It may save your life and those of your family and friends. Enough said.

Loren D. Reuter is a staff officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 7-2, St. Petersburg.
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