With warmer weather upon us and holidays fast approaching, National Safe Boating Week - which kicks off today - offers on-the-water reminders.
Petty Officer Nick Ameen for the 7th Coast Guard District in Miami said an informed boater is a safe boater. He said it is crucial for a boater to know what they are doing before heading out on the water.
"Before you hit the water it is absolutely crucial to become informed," he said, adding it is important to make sure passengers and crew are safe at all times.
One of the most important things a boater can do before he or she goes out is to file a flow plan to let someone know from where they are leaving, where they are going, how long they plan on being gone, and when they plan on returning.
Ameen said that information is key because it helps the Coast Guard develop a search pattern if they need to look for someone.
There also are devices and products a boater should purchase before going out on the water. Those items include life jackets, VHF radios, an emergency position indicating radio beacon, a whistle and air horn, a signaling mirror, flares and first aid kits.
To promote National Safe Boating Week the Cape Coral Power Squadron is offering free, confidential vessel inspections today from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Cape Harbor Marina and at the Everest Parkway launch ramp.
"The recommended boating safety gear on your vessel could really make a difference this boating season," Ameen said.
One life jacket, in an easily assessable place, is required for everyone on the vessel. Ameen said you do not want your life jackets stored below because if the boat takes on water, you want the devices readily accessible as things tend to happen to quickly.
There are a variety of styles, colors and sizes of life jackets from which to choose. He said there are some jackets that actually are a belt that only inflates when needed due to salt tablets that dissolve in water should an individual go overboard. Children should wear life jackets at all times.
"The best life jacket is the one you wear," Ameen said.
Public relations officer Harold Garrels for the Cape Coral Power Squadron said they are participating in the National Safe Boating Week so they can help promote safe boating while encouraging the use of life jackets when on the vessel.
"The No. 1 thing they ought to be concerned about is having and wearing life jackets to prevent and reduce the amount of fatalities from occurring when people least suspect it," he said, especially for children who do not know how to swim.
Garrels said life jackets are crucial because when an accident happens the person in trouble may not have assistance quick enough to prevent a real tragedy from happening.
The Cape Coral Power Squadron offers a life jacket loaner program for residents who do not have enough life jackets for their vessels. He said it comes in handy when friends and family come to visit and they are taken out on the boat.
"It is a free resource for the boaters," Garrels said. "When they are done (using the life jackets) they bring them back to us. I encourage anyone that does need life jackets for a short term use to take advantage of that."
To take advantage of the program, stop by Cape Coral Power Squadron office at 917 S.E. 47th Terrace or call 239-549-9754. They are generally open from 9 a.m. until noon Monday through Friday.
A VHF radio is another device to have on board because cell phone reception and signals only go so far when off shore. He said with a VHF radio, the Coast Guard can get to a location faster to provide assistance.
Ameen said a wonderful device to have is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon because the device sends a satellite signal to the Coast Guard indicating the exact coordinates of where the vessel is located.
"It takes the search out of search and rescue," he said, adding that the rescue is much quicker.
Although some of the devices may be costly, "you can't put a price on a human life," Ameen said.
A multi-layered approach to boating safety is important, especially when noise is needed at night for a rescue. Ameen said a whistle and an air horn is important to have on board. A hand held signaling mirror also comes in handy when a boater needs to be rescued because it catches a glare that really stands out when at sea.
Flares must be replaced every three years to make sure they are up-to-date, along with a first aid kit in case someone slips and falls and cuts their foot open. Ameen said the person will be in better shape by the time paramedics arrive if they have a first aid kit.
Joanna Martin, customer service at Coastal Propeller and Marine Supply said they ask their customers specific questions to make sure they have the necessary marine supplies on their vessel. She said the most important things she enforces is making sure her customer's flares are not expired, along with purchasing a life jacket.
Although the devices and products are important, the most important thing is experience.
"An educated, experienced boater helps out a lot," he said. "Think before you head out on the water."
To further promote National Safe Boating Week the Cape Coral Power Squadron is offering free, confidential vessel inspections today from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Cape Harbor Marina and at the Everest Parkway launch ramp.
Garrels encourages boaters to take advantage of the free inspection because there is no risk for them.
"We are trying to make everyone aware of places they might be able to improve their safety with boating," he said.
With Memorial Day approaching Ameen also encourages boaters to have a designated driver while on the boat.
"You need to have someone on your boat that is able to safely operate the vessel at all times," Ameen said, adding that boating under the influence is not tolerated in Southwest Florida.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Lee County Marine Task Force will conduct an "Operation Boat Safe" today and Sunday at undisclosed locations in Lee County waters to kick off the weekend of National Safe Boating Week.
For information about boating safety visit www.uscgboating.org.