As the waters in the Tampa Bay area and offshore warm, fishing begins to kick into high gear, and often this includes boating both inshore and offshore. It is crucial to remember that waters anywhere, especially in Tampa Bay, around the Sunshine Skyway and offshore, can not only pose a threat but can be extremely dangerous. Every year, Tampa Bay and the waters offshore in the Gulf claim the lives of boaters who naively believed “it can’t happen to me.” Respecting the sea is imperative for safety and survival. The following is a list of the 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, lightening, 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 or PLB. An emergency position emergency radio beacon or personal locator beacon may easily save your life. They are available online and at most local boating equipment stores. They can range in cost from about $150 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 and PLBs 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 or a PLB.
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 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 am astonished at the incompetence 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 course entitled boating skills and seamanship in many areas around Tampa Bay. For more information or to register for the free course please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 898-1324 and you will be advised of the nearest Boating Skills and Seamanship Course.
Just do it. If you follow this information it may save your life and/or those of your family and friends. Enough said.
Loren D. Reuter serves as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 7-2 – St. Petersburg.