Tuesday, June 4, 2013


    From the small weedy impoundments of the Piedmont, to the expansive waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia is a state that abounds with accessible opportunities for recreational boaters and anglers.  

While boating is meant to be an enjoyable, relaxing activity, even the best days on the water can take a turn for the worse unexpectedly.

    Safe boating awareness week was kick-started last Saturday, as it is always observed as the first week before Labor Day Weekend, anticipating the beginning of what is typically the heaviest season of boating traffic.  Being well-educated and equipped for a day on the water this spring or summer is the most important element of preventing an accident.

    From 2010 to 2011, researchers noted a 19% increase in boating accidents across the state of Virginia.  In 2012, the US Coast Guard registered over 4500 boating-related accidents, involving 651 deaths, 3000 injuries, and about $38 million in property damage.  Distracted operation, operator inexperience, and improper lookout rank as the top three causes of accidents; and alcohol consumption remains the leading factor in accidents resulting in fatalities.

    As a step towards slashing these grave numbers, in 2007, the Virginia General Assembly instituted a boating safety and compliance requirement, which continues to be grandfathered in by age group until 2016, when all operators of personal watercrafts (PWC)—jet skis—and motorboats of 10 horsepower or larger will be required to have proof of completion of a NASBLA approved boater’s safety course.

    Currently, every operator over the age of 14, and all motorboat operators 30 and younger must have completed a safety course.   No person under the age of 14 may operate a PWC.

    However, as the next phase of the initiative, all motorboat operators 40 and younger must have proof of course completion beginning July 1 of this year.

    The USCG takes note that only 9% of boating accidents occurred on vessels manned by an operator who had received the proper boating education requirements.  Therefore, despite the age requirements, it is recommendable, and statistically safer, that even those temporarily excused of the requirements take initiative and register for a course.

    There are numerous approved providers of both classroom and online classes.  A full list and signup information can be found on the VDGIF website.

    The North American Safe BoatingCampaign is also taking steps towards protecting Virginia’s boaters through the “Wear It!” initiative.  It’s well known that life jackets, or personal flotation devices (PFDs), save lives, but how helpful are they really?  USCG data supports that 71% of all fatal accidents involve drowning.  Of those, an estimated 85% could have been prevented through the proper use of a PFD.

    The VDGIF requires that one fitting, serviceable--not torn or critically damaged—, and USCG approved PFD per passenger, and one throwable life preserver be present and easily accessed on all motorboats.

    PFDs should fit well—snug, but not tight.  Adults can test their jacket’s fit by raising their arms overhead and ensuring that the range of motion in the head and neck are not restricted.  To check the fit of your child’s vest, firmly lift up on the shoulder straps.  They should rise no more than three inches, and not be any higher than the child’s ears.

    With all legal hurdles cleared and safety devices gathered, conduct a thorough, pre-season maintenance check.  Inspect all rope ties and engine lines for wear, make sure your fire extinguisher is serviceable, and check the functionality of navigation and headlights.  Battery terminals should be cleaned of any corrosion and buildup, gas lines should be in smooth working order (check for cracks due to dry rot, especially), and ensure that all through-hull connectors and fittings remain watertight.

    If all is in working order and you are in compliance with the Virginia boater’s education requirements, get out on the water and enjoy the weather!  But remember, a fine day on the water can still take a turn for the worse.  Stay alert; and as an extension from the DGIF, be responsible, be safe, and have fun!

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