Boating To Stay Alive

Boating to Stay Alive. River jet boating is a specialist activity. Do not attempt it until you are competent. The sandwiches were a little soggy after this outing.
River jet boating is a specialist activity. Do not attempt it until you are competent. The sandwiches were a little soggy after this outing.

Boating To Stay Alive

By John Clarke

With the arrival of summer, hundreds of boaties will take to the water to take part in their preferred pastime. This will incorporate fishing, sailing, cruising, and all other aquatic activities concerning boating. In the article, Boating to Stay Alive, John Clark covers some of the basics every boatie should be aware of.

Whatever the preference, there is one certainty. Some will drown. Worse still, in almost every case the deaths will have been preventable. There are a great number of boaties at large, who are inexperienced in boat handling and other aspects of seamanship.

Some are in modem runabouts with powerful motors, others in floating death traps, built or restored in their backyards. They proudly take friends or neighbours out in their pride and joy without a clue on what to do in case of emergency or sudden weather change. At this stage, it sometimes is revealed that all the skipper knows about the sea is that it is wet.

It is imperative for all those who venture out, to know at least the basics of seamanship and safety, if not for your preservation, then that of your passengers. The purpose of this article is to point out a few of the fundamentals in layman’s terms, hopefully improving boating standards which in turn should make for safer and more enjoyable outings.

Firstly ensure that your boat is capable of doing the job you require. Only use an open boat in protected waters such as small lakes, and rivers, except at the mouth or Sounds. Remember, however, that some lakes can turn from a millpond to very rough in minutes, and there have been many fatalities due to underestimating these waters. In open water, boats that are decked in or fitted with buoyancy tanks should be used, and once again never underestimate the power of nature or the force of the sea.

Make sure your boat is seaworthy, with regular checks made on the hull, motor and safety equipment. Don’t wait for an emergency to find out whether or not you are prepared. It could be too late for you and your companions. All boats should carry suitable safety equipment, with the minimum being:

1. Oars.
2. Fire extinguisher.
3. Pump and bucket for bailing.
4. Lifejackets.
5. Distress flares and torch.
6. Anchor.
7. Spare plug for draining hole (if fitted).
8. First Aid kit.
9. Assorted tools.

Points to remember for Boating to Stay Alive:

Do Not Overload Your Boat

One big factor causing death in small boats is overloading. This causes less freeboard and makes the boat easier to be swamped. This can happen with a deterioration in weather or even the wash from another vessel. It is important to have some understanding of the theory of stability.

There have been instances of launches being rebuilt with new cabins fitted, or bridges being added without consultation. These have sometimes ended up top-heavy. This raises the centre of weight, making the boat unstable, thus increasing the possibility of capsizing. A simple example could be the difference between sitting in a dinghy and standing up. In a nutshell, if more weight is applied to the top half than the bottom, the vessel will eventually overturn. Theoretically, this will apply to all craft, from dinghies to ocean liners.

Drinking and Boating Don’t Mix

As with driving a car, drinking distorts your judgement of speed, distance and reflex action. In addition, it dulls your memory of the characteristic features of any area of water, and the dangers it may contain.

Always Have Lifejackets Available For Everyone Aboard At All Times

Make sure children wear them at all times.

Keep You Weather Eye Open

Weather can change quickly. A fine day in the morning can turn to a cold, strong wind by the afternoon.

Have an Adequate Fuel Filter

Keep fuel clear of foreign particles. A stopped fuel line can mean a stopped boat.

Stay Clear of Swimmers

It is difficult to spot a human head on the surface. A touch of your boat or propeller is enough to cause severe or fatal injuries to a person in the water.

Check Your Battery and Its Ventilation

A good battery is necessary to restart your engine if it has stopped. Proper ventilation is required to disperse fumes. If possible always carry a spare.

Be Aware of Your Wake

Long after your boat has passed, the wake rolls on. This can cause damage to property on the shore or unnecessary discomfort to others on the water.

Reduce Speed Through Anchorage Areas

As above, but also your visibility is restricted and a risk of collision exists.

Learn to Read a Chart

The Hydrographic Branch of the Royal New Zealand Navy put a great deal of work into the making of these charts. They are a dedicated team that gathers data, which in turn is coalesced into the making of each chart for each area. A chart can enable you to be sure of your position and to be aware of hidden dangers. They are invaluable when cruising, as they show safe anchorages, depth of water, types of the sea bottom, and general coast appearance.

Boat owners should be competent in using these in conjunction with a compass. This is essential equipment in open water and should be placed where it can be easily read by the helmsman. It should never be fitted within 3ft of electrical equipment. Do not place a radio near the compass as it can affect its accuracy.

Rules of the Road

Just as ashore, there are rules to follow concerning other craft. The following are a few basics which should be learned.

1. The person in charge of a motor boat, launch, yacht, or small sailing or rowing boat should ensure that the vessel does not impede the navigation of any ship of 500 tons or more. The easiest translation is to give way to all shipping.

2. When two power vessels are meeting head-on, each shall alter course to starboard.

3. When two power vessels are crossing in a manner which would involve the risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on its starboard side shall keep out of the way.

4. Power should give way to sail.

5. An overtaking vessel gives way.

Fire – Boating to Stay Alive

The boat owner’s greatest fear is fire – certainly those with petrol engines. Extreme care must be taken in pre-voyage checks for poor ventilation, fuel leaks, and clear bilges.

Boats should be fitted with gas detectors. Well-ventilated bilges and engine rooms are essential on all launches and yachts. Petrol vapours and cooking gas vapours are heavier than air and will settle in the lowest parts of a boat.

For my part, I have always believed that inboard petrol engines and boating don’t mix. Many would disagree with this theory, but if the means of propulsion is not petrol, the chance of fire aboard is reduced tenfold. With that, I rest my case.

Common Causes of Fire – Boating to Stay Alive

Engine backfires in vapour-laden area. Short circuit in vapour-laden area. Naked flame in vapour-laden area. Static electricity during fuelling. Combustible material in poorly ventilated areas. These are common causes of fire. If in doubt, arrange to have your craft inspected before the season starts. It could save your life. Also, make certain your fire extinguishers are fixed in a prominent and easily accessible place. Always carry a spare.


In the case of the small runabout, this is not so important, and any weighty object will hold firm in quiet water, but larger boats require care to ensure they do not drag their anchor. Always use the same procedure when anchoring.

1. Make sure the anchor rope is secured to the boat (for obvious reasons).

2. Make sure the depth of water is enough to prevent grounding at low water.

3. Approach your anchorage heading into the wind or current.

Safety in Small Craft by Mike Scanlan. Coastguard Boating Education Service.
Safety in Small Craft by Mike Scanlan. Coastguard Boating Education Service.

4. Never throw your anchor – put the engine slowly into reverse then drop it. You will feel the anchor taking up, then pay out your anchor line to the required length. Once in position, check your anchor at regular intervals to make sure nothing is amiss.

Finally, never buy a larger launch or yacht without employing the services of a recognised surveyor. Beware of bargains!

Now you know at least the basics. It isn’t possible to cover all aspects of safe boating in such an article, but I trust that this outline will be of assistance to the novice boatie. There is an excellent publication available in all good bookstores called “Safety In Small Craft” by Mike Scanlan. Much of this information comes from sections of this booklet, and I urge all who participate in the pastime to purchase a copy and become familiar with its contents.

Let’s hope that you are all survivors this season and keep boating to stay alive!

Boating to Stay Alive. Even the professionals can strike trouble. This naval patrol boat sank after a moment's inattention.
Even the professionals can strike trouble. This naval patrol boat sank after a moment’s inattention.

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