"Concerns About Boating Safety"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Saturday, August 20, 2016

A very concerned woman who lives in a waterfront home has been witness to numerous events on the lake that have her very upset. Knowing I write about boating safety, she asked that I make it the subject of my column.

For those who read my columns in other publications, what you read may be repetitious. If the words reach even one person, causing them to practice boating safety, it will be worth the effort the woman took to contact me.

Boating offers a wide variety of vessels that all share the waterways. Just visit the Port Austin Harbor when the water is calm. You will see yachts up to 100 feet along the docks and canoes and kayaks less than 8 feet long paddling offshore.

Most owners of large boats have taken boating classes and upgrade their knowledge often. Although you may hear of an incident involving a large pleasure craft, the boat was likely fitted with all the safety equipment it could possibly need.

When you hear of incidents involving small boats, and consider their size, you conclude they would not have needed all that equipment and had no room to carry it.

There is room for the most important piece of safety equipment on any size boat: a PFD (personal floatation device).

Some call it a “life” jacket — because it can save your life and there is always room for it because you should wear it.

PFDs are needed and required on all vessels. It matters not that various states use different boat types, size or age data to define their requirements. It stands to reason if it is required you have a PFD onboard, especially a small vessel, you should wear it. The latest Coast Guard statistics reported a 10 percent increase in fatalities over the prior year, 78 percent of the victims drowned and 84 percent of them were not wearing a PFD.

Over a very long span of years, I came in contact with small boat operators frequently. It never ceased to amaze me how little they knew about what to expect out on the water. People were unaware what a vast difference there is between the Great Lakes and small, inland lakes.

Many canoe and kayak operators gain experience on a small river or lake, and they do well handling their crafts. If a strong wind comes up, they may be driven to the opposite shore which is not a problem. On a large body of water, the small crafts can be driven offshore and wind up in building wave heights.

With their design, kayaks and canoes can cut the waves. I have witnessed strong paddlers totally unable to manage their small boats lose control, especially while paddling against the wind. Their vessels can also fill with water that washes over the bow and there is no way to bail it. The vessel will soon sink and its occupants, exhausted from attempting to control their craft, will be in the water. If they are not wearing PFDs it will be near impossible to retrieve them and put them on as they struggle in building wave heights.

If you buy a very small boat (some kayaks are even sold as inflatables), it will seldom come with lessons. Don’t assume because it’s just a small boat you will be proficient in operating it. You can however seek ways to gain knowledge about its use. Always adopt the buddy system; never go alone. If you do recognize you are inexperienced, have the common sense to wear a PFD. The DNR’s latest logo states: “Life jackets float, you don’t. Wear it.”

Kayaking and canoeing can be fun and good exercise. Those who enjoy the activity need to be cautious, recognizing conditions on any body of water — especially a large one, can become hazardous. If you don’t wear a life jacket, the fun could become a fight for your life.

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