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A Reminder that the Sea is Unforgiving (Boating Safety)

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): A Reminder that the Sea is Unforgiving (Boating Safety)

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Reminder that the Sea is Unforgiving (Boating Safety)


I hesitate to write about boating safety...we've all heard it before, but in light of this week's harrowing events where my father and two other relatives (one a 10 year old boy) were almost lost at sea, I think it is worth repeating.

After being thrown into the Gulf of Mexico, a few miles out from shore, my dad did not have a lot of time to think and react. As I talked to him after his ordeal, his voice scratchy with seawater, he recounted the events and what he could've done better. He also discussed what went right and some general things that every one who steps onto a boat should know.

The trip started out friendly enough, on a day with crystal clear skies off the coast of Gulf Shores, AL. As they fished a few miles out, the hull of the 15 ft boat seemed to have a major malfunction and crack open. The boat immediately filled with water and flipped over...all in about 10 seconds. There was absolutely no warning!

  • Everyone should be wearing lifevests at all times, especially children. If you absolutely refuse to wear one, make sure one is available right next to you and not stored in some compartment somewhere. If you go this route, you had better be a VERY good swimmer, able to tread water and swim for a few hours at a time in not the best of conditions (such as 5 ft waves). Lifevests these days are a lot more comfortable than the old standard and now come with locating beacons and lights, a worthwhile extra expense. Also keep in mind that if the boat flips over, or an oar pops up, you could be knocked unconscious with no chance to put on your lifevest.
  • If the boat is still floating, try to release as many floatable items as you can. Not only will you have more things to hang onto to but also a greater chance of being seen.
After the boat sank, they had to make the decision whether to stay in the area or to swim towards land, which they thankfully were able to see. They also were able to see some boats in the distance. Pappy, made the decision to try to swim to a boat that looked to be close by. My father and the 10 year old stayed put as best they could. The 10 year old was the only one wearing a lifevest.

  • Conserve your energy. Boats seem closer than they are, and it would take a herculean effort to even try to reach one. It is best to have a flashing light, signaling mirror, whistle or air horn to try to attract attention. Make sure lifevests are brightly colored and don't waste money on camouflaged vests. A lone person in the water is very difficult to see, and your voice does not carry far over the wind and waves. You need every bit of help you can get, to get noticed.
With Pappy out of sight, my dad made the decision to take the 10 year old and attempt the swim to shore. The currents were strong, but my father encouraged the boy to keep going. Land was in sight, and this was their best chance for help. Since my father had no lifevest, he fell farther behind as he had to rest and float numerous times. He is no spring chicken!

  • Again, make sure everyone who boards that boat, has a brightly colored lifevest. As the boat sinks, also look for anything that can float, to include coolers (if they close tightly) and gas tanks, even seat cushions could mean the difference between drowning and staying afloat for an extended period.
With his strength waning, my father spotted a channel marker, a buoy. He attempted to swim towards it but got caught in a current and was carried farther away. He thought he would float for a bit longer this time and then attempt a final effort.

  • Don't allow yourself to give up. If you are caught in a current, try swimming perpendicular to the direction you are being pushed. Rest up by floating on your back and put extra effort into the task at hand.
As he raised his head and looked around, out of nowhere, he saw two shrimp boats bearing down on him. At one point, he frantically swam as the one boat was headed dead ahead towards his location. Since they did not hear his initial shouts, he thought he'd better try to get out of the way if he could. He eventually heard shouts from the first boat, saying that they saw him and to sit tight. Once they got to him, they held his head out of the water until the Coast Guard was able to get to the area. He was so exhausted and the boat was so high, they were unable to get him into the shrimpboat. They had to wait for Coast Guard assistance. They also quickly found Pappy, also exhausted but alive and heard through the radio that the 10 year old had made it to shore.

In hindsight, my father pondered some of the other things he would've done, both to prepare himself and to give himself a better chance of survival. It was touch and go at times, and for now, he said he has had it with boats. He'll stick to the hotel pool for now. Please take the time to read some of the tips below and visit the recommended sites. You never know when you will be a passenger in a boat, and it's best to be well informed and to take responsibility for you and your family.

  • Always listen to a marine weather report and know the expected conditions for the day and dress and bring gear accordingly.
  • Give an approximate location to family of where you will be (it pays to have a handheld GPS device with you as well). Also, let them know when you will be back and stick to that plan.
  • Take a cell phone with you. You may have reception out there. Keep it in a brightly colored waterproof case on your body.
  • Have and wear brightly colored lifevests that have emergency beacons and signaling devices attached.
  • It's important for adults to attend a boating safety course. if you haven't had one in awhile, get a refresher. It'll make you more confident on the water. Don't put all your faith in the boat's captain, even if they are highly experienced. Take responsibility for yourself and your family.
  • Know how to work the boat's engine, basic equipment, radio, GPS, fuel and safety equipment. Do not totally rely on the captain in case something should happen to them. Believe it or not, more captains than you think happen to get knocked unconscious and go overboard. Know what to do!
  • Distribute weight evenly when storing your gear and seating passengers. Especially in small boats, do not stand up suddenly and move to one side or the other.
Here are some websites you might find of interest:

Foremost Boaters Water Safety

USCG Boating Safety

Weight Distribution in Boats to keep from capsizing

If you can think of any other tips or would like to share your own boating experiences (good or bad but inspirational), I would love to hear them, as I'm sure our readers here would too!

The article is also showcased on All Things Boating.

Read this article and others on boating at Pacific Northwest Boating.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Mark Vander Wel said...

A riveting story! Thanks. The USCG says that 80% of boat fatalities involve people without proper life gear. Of those, 60% could have been prevented had they been wearing a personal flotation device. Makes you think...

August 23, 2007 at 7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the dad, everything my daughter wrote is absolutely correct! But wait there is more. When the unthinkable happens it's essential that you remain cool, calm, and collected. You can't expend any energy unnecessarily. Keep others around you calm as well. over and again I reassured my nephew that we WILL survive. If you are clinging to a capsized boat make a decision and know what you will do if the boat goes all the way under. Fortunately my long years of Army experiences were invaluable in helping us out of a potentially diastrous situation. If you remember only one thing from this article; it's in any life or death situation panic and fear are close friends of the grim reaper! Have a great day and happy boating. BTW dad may not be a spring chicken, but fortunately he is in pretty good shape. :)

August 23, 2007 at 8:03 PM  

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