Sailing a boat is a fun summer hobby, especially in the beautiful Ocean State of Rhode Island. The ocean is very unpredictable and in order for avid RI boaters to enjoy their favorite summer pass-time, it's of the utmost importance to know about boat safety practices and the proper uses for everything in their boat to prevent any emergencies. So, sit back and pay attention as we cruise through some important safety signals to keep you and your passengers safe.
Boat Safety 101
Emergencies can happen at any time and in any place; the key is to be prepared. In the case of boating safely, proper preparation is key. If you have the correct emergency equipment, the outcome in an emergency situation can be quite positive. According to Boat Ed, in the U.S. alone, about 75% of boating accidents occur due to boating error, 15% occur due to the environment, and only about 10% occur due to equipment. And surprisingly, the victims of these accidents are usually sailors, or men of about 26 to 50 years of age, who have been sailing for years and know how to swim! These statistics show us that more than anything, human error seems to be a huge trigger when it comes to boating accidents. Now human error could be distracted boat captains not staying focused, limited visibility at night, or impairment due to substances. There are several Rhode Island boating laws and regulations to follow as you navigate the ocean.
Don't Drink and Sail!
Of utmost importance is to never drink and boat. Sailing a boat is a lot like driving a car; the same way drivers have to abide by the laws of the road, sailors have nautical rules and laws of navigating the Rhode Island oceans. That being said, no, you cannot drink a beer or any other alcoholic beverage while operating a boat. This is considered boating under the influence in Rhode Island and the Rhode Island law indicates the blood alcohol limit intoxicated if you have a BAC of 0.08% or higher. Click here for additional information on the legalities of boating and drinking in the state of Rhode Island.
According to the USCG (U.S. Coast Guard), “alcohol plays a role in about a third of all boating fatalities, and a boat operator with a BAC of .10 or higher is estimated to be 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than a sober one. Keep in mind that the sun, wind, and boat vibration can accelerate impairment." Alcohol can really impair and limit your ability to focus and stay alert while operating, that makes thinking on the spot during an emergency situation extremely difficult. So, take our advice and don't drink and boat for you and your passengers' safety!
Rhode Island Boating Laws Don't Lie
No matter where you go, there are many laws put in place to protect sailors and passengers alike. This is mostly due to the many horrible shipwrecks of our past, the Titanic and her sister ships being the most influential. However horrible these tragedies were, they did allow us to learn from them and grow. Since then, strict boating laws and equipment requirements have been put in place and are heavily enforced with good reason. In an effort to keep you well-informed and well-prepared, let's run through our list of must-have boating equipment that is legally required by the Marine Unit of the Environmental Police of Rhode Island. According to United Marine, the USCG has a list of what they deem as required boat safety equipment. This list, while very thorough, is not a set list due to the fact that each state may have different boat safety equipment requirements. Click here to view the handbook of Rhode Island boating laws and responsibilities.
- Life Jackets
This is the first, and perhaps most important piece of equipment to have on your boat. However many times it is said, it can never be stressed enough; life jackets and personal flotation devices are a must! The USCG requires that there must be one approved type per person on board the boat. There are four types of life jackets and personal flotation devices and however big your boat is will determine how many and which of the four types you will need. In addition to having one life jacket per person on board, they must be stored in an easy to find, and reach, place because let's face it, the last thing you want to be doing during a boating emergency is going on a scavenger hunt to find life jackets. Children also have very specific regulations in regard to their life jackets and that also differs from state to state, so make sure you know exactly what the Rhode Island boating laws are! And if you're planning to bring the pooch on board, be sure they're suited up as well!
- Fire Extinguishers
According to the USCG requires that boats 26 feet or less have at least one B-1 type of fire extinguisher. A B-1 type of fire extinguisher is a type of hand portable extinguisher. And just as with life jackets, the number of fire extinguishers and the different types you are required to have depends on the size of your boat. The bigger the boat, the more fire extinguishers you will need on board. It may seem strange to think that a boat might catch on fire while surrounded by water but it can happen. When it comes to safety, it's better to be safe than sorry.
- Bells & Whistles
Many sailors believe that the bell or whistle of a ship is her voice; and in an emergency, a boat needs to be able to announce that it's in distress. That being said, any boat under 40 feet is required to have some kind of device that makes a sound. It can be a horn or a whistle but any boats that are over 40 feet must have both a bell and a whistle on board. And if that weren't specific enough, United Marine states that the exact diameter that the mouth of the bell must be which is 7.87 inches and that the whistle needs to be able to be heard at least ½ a nautical mile.
- Visual Distress Signals (VDS)
These are very important to have and know how and when to use in the event of a boating accident. There are both day and nighttime VDS kits and both are very good to have on board since you really don't know at what time of day you will find yourself in need of them. United Marine specifies that any boats sailing in Coastal Waters, the Great Lakes, and U.S. owned boats on the high seas are required to carry three night VDS if they are less than 16 feet long. Larger boats that are over 16 feet are required by the USCG to have three day and night VDS on board. It is important to note that VDS are not meant to be used for entertainment because they are serious components of boat safety equipment.
When dealing with any type of machinery that has an engine, proper ventilation is extremely important. Boat engines, just like other engines, work hard to help us get to where we want and need to go. However, the work these engines do releases toxic fumes that can be very harmful if not ventilated. That's why any boats built before 1980 are required to have at least two ventilation ducts that are able to ventilate any closed compartment that has a gasoline engine or tank. Boats built after 1980 must have two ventilation ducts with cowls (curved tube with a flared mouth that aids in bringing air below deck for ventilation) to properly ventilate any closed compartment that has an engine or tank that uses gasoline.
- Backfire Flame Arrestor
As previously mentioned, you should always be prepared in the event that a fire should break out on a boat; one way for that to happen is if the engine backfires and the gasoline vapors ignite. This is extremely dangerous and that is why backfire flame arrestors are a required boat safety equipment for all powerboats except those with outboard motors. United Marine emphasizes that there must be one flame arrestor on each carburetor of any and all gas engines.
- Navigation Rules
Just as the roads have rules, so do the seven seas. These navigation rules are maintained by the USCG and are much like the rules you learn in driver's education about driving cars, except these are for boats. They essentially tell you how to navigate the waters in a safe way in order to avoid any and all boating accidents and what to do in the event of a head-on collision or boat overtaking. All boats over 40 feet are required by the USCG to have the most current copy of these navigation rules on board at all times.
- First Aid Kit
This is something of extreme importance yet often overlooked and forgotten by many. First aid kits are a must-have on any boat because they are filled with disinfectants and utensils that you may need in order to properly care for an injury while sailing. In the event of a boating accident, you really don't know who will get hurt or even how badly they will be hurt. Always be prepared for the worst but hope for the best.
- VHF Radio
This small but mighty radio can save lives, and this is no exaggeration. A VHF marine radio can really come in handy if you're ever in a boating accident and need to alert someone. According to Boat U.S., this radio allows your call for help to be delivered to dozens and even hundreds of people or sailors who may be listening to their radios. With this radio your chances of survival are greatly increased, so make sure you have it. You are allowed to have other radios on board your boat if you would like however, the VHF is required to have by the USCG. Be sure to have one on board as you're boating in Rhode Island!
- Extra Fuel & Water
Even though you may have filled up the fuel tank in your boat and will be surrounded by water, fuel can run out and saltwater is not water you can drink. Boating accidents happen and fuel can run out no matter how much you filled your tank up. Make sure to have extra fuel with you in the event that you forget and run out while on the water. Your marina is a great place to fuel up your boat, and if your boat is docked at East Greenwich Marina and you can make your way down channel 9 and fuel up your boat at the East Greenwich Yacht Club at their pump out dock. Extra water is also important to have on board as well. Our bodies are made up of 80% of water, meaning that it's essential for survival so stock up!
- Tool Kit & Flashlight
Boats are man-made and all man-made equipment is prone to breakdown because we are only human after all. That is why a tool kit is something very useful to have on board. The tool kit can contain a screwdriver, wrenches, pliers, repair tape and a number of other useful tools that you think you may need to help with any emergency repairs. A flashlight is something very important that should be included in this tool kit, not just for repairs but also because you never know when an emergency may happen at night.
- Sun Protection
The sun may help everything live on our planet but during a boating accident, it can be very brutal due to the fact that it's beating straight down on the water which is reflecting it. Too much sun exposure can cause dehydration and that can lead to even bigger health problems. Make sure you have adequate sun protection and a life raft that also has sun protection. After all, the sun can get warm during our Rhode Island summers!
- A Bucket to Use as a Bailer
No one wants to think of water entering their boat since the purpose of a boat is to float on the water. However, boating accidents do happen and water can get into your boat. In the event that this does happen, a bailer bucket is a good device to have in order to remove the excess water if possible. This can be a simple bucket in order to scoop up the water and throw it out or you can buy a fancy bailer device at a marine store. Whichever you choose to go with, they fulfill the same purpose and are useful to have.
- Oars or Paddles
Some may wonder why oars and paddles are a necessary boat safety equipment if a boat has a motor. But what happens if you have to abandon your boat and get into a life raft? Oars and paddles are used to propel a boat so that if you find yourself abandoning ship and getting into a life raft you won't just be floating on the water aimlessly but rather, steering in a direction.
- Anchor with Enough Chain
If you're sailing out to a specific location and plan on stopping, you'll need to stop. In order for you to effectively stop and not keep floating out in the RI sea, you will need to put down an anchor to keep you in place. Make sure your anchor is connected to a chain and you have enough of it so that it lands on the ocean floor. A chain is better to connect to your anchor than rope because once the anchor drops the chain is heavy and will help the anchor go downward.
- Survival Kit
A survival kit is something you definitely do not want to cheap out on. Make sure you spend money on getting the best equipment because even though you hopefully may never need to use it, what happens if you do? You will want to know that you spent good money on the best equipment out there to ensure your survival and speedy rescue. The equipment you include in your boat survival kit may vary, or you can buy a kit already made for you. The choice is yours, just don't forget to get a good life raft, extra VDS for both day and night, a marine radio, an Emergency Position Indication Radiobeacon (EPIRB), extra life jackets and personal flotation devices, and rescue laser lights or flares. With all of these items, you'll be geared up for a safe RI boating trip!
You should always have extra rope on board not just for mooring your boat but just for emergency situations. You never know what you will need to tie off or together during a boating accident so be prepared. If you already take extra rope with you on board, then take extra for your extras.
Follow a Boat Departure Checklist to Avoid an Emergency
We create lists daily in order to keep us on track and make sure we don't forget important things or events, so why not follow a list for your boat too? Pre-departure checklists can be very useful in making sure you have anything you might need before leaving the dock. The USCG provides a useful list for sailors to follow and check off before setting sail. Make sure to get into the habit of checking and rechecking this list so that you are 200% sure that everything on it is also located on your vessel. Boating accidents happen every day and you don't want to be in the middle of an emergency and realize you are not sure if you have the tools you need to keep yourself and your passengers safe.
If You Encounter An At-Sea Emergency, Call for Help.
The open ocean can be a relaxing getaway when all is well, however, when something goes wrong, it can be very stressful since the rules for survival are completely different. Unlike when your car breaks down and you can walk to the nearest gas station or call AAA, when on the water, you have no other option but to call for assistance. In the event that you break down in the middle of the ocean, you should use VHF-FM Channel 16 to dial for Coast Guard Assistance. The USCG goes above and beyond in order to ensure that each sailor remains safe and that there are fewer boating accidents. However, the ocean is an awfully big territory and it's much too big of a job for them to accomplish alone, which is why boaters must also be prepared to do their part as well.
Each year the USCG puts together all of the boating accident reports that are filed and creates what they call, “ boating safety statistics," with them. With this information they are able to carefully analyze and study what happened to better their responses. These statistics are also provided to the public in an effort to increase boating safety among sailors themselves. According to the USCG's latest “boating safety statistics," in 2017 alone, “[...] the Coast Guard counted 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents" (USCG 6). These are startling numbers that leave you wondering why so many sailors are not being twice as careful out at sea. What's even more shocking is that, of those 658 deaths, “Where the cause of death was known, 76% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84.5% were not wearing a life jacket" (USCG 6). This is exactly why the USCG stresses the importance of always wearing a life jacket while on board a boat. You just never know what will happen or when you will need to be wearing it because it can mean the difference between living or drowning.
As we have learned, boating accidents are quite common in general, but there are a few accidents that sailors find themselves in the most. Below are some of the top five accident types that the USCG encountered the most according to their 2017 “boating safety statistics."
- Collisions with other recreational vessels
- Collisions with fixed objects
- Flooding/swamping (filling with water)
- Grounding (being stuck onshore)
- Passengers falling overboard
Each of these boating accidents are accompanied by staggering numbers of both death and injuries along with their frequency. Surprisingly, the USCG reports that of these top five boating accidents, the one that has the most number of deaths is number five. With about 306 reported passengers falling overboard, 179 of them resulted in fatalities and 126 resulted in injuries. Of these five, the accident that occurs most frequently is number one, with the number of reported collisions with other recreational vessels reaching 1,145, number of deaths equaling 49 and number of injuries totaling 721 which is the highest number of injuries out of all five types of accidents.
While the number of deaths associated with boating accidents are increasingly sad, the number of reported injuries are something very serious to consider. Being hurt at sea is very different than being hurt on land. On land it is much easier and faster to call and wait for help to come, whereas at sea, it may take a little while to not only reach the injured but also bring them back to shore. According to Soundings Online, “Every mile from the dock is another four minutes (on average, in a fast boat) from a hospital." And it's not only injuries that are a common mishap at sea, it's medical problems too. That's why Before setting sail, be sure you're aware of any medical issues your boating passengers may have or any medications they take regularly. This knowledge can not only save a life but prevent a lot of unwanted stress and worrying about whether the individual will be able to get the proper medical attention they need. Make sure you are prepared and keep a well-stocked first aid kit which is the wise and LEGAL choice.
Top Reasons a Boat Might Break Down
Taking care of a boat is much like taking care of your body; they need constant check-ups and tune-ups. Without proper care your boat becomes a very dangerous vessel to be on and a lot more prone to boating accidents. Boat U.S. states that, “[...] over two-thirds of sinking accidents were preventable; wear, tear and corrosion was the highest cause at 34%." If you're an avid RI boater and love to take your boat on the water, then maintaining your boat is a must! It is your job and responsibility as the operator to make sure your boat is in tip-top shape not only for your safety but for the safety of any passengers you may carry onboard. Be thorough and assess each and every inch of your boat to make sure that it all works as it should. Make sure that your boat can steer, and that when you steer in a specific direction, it actually goes in that direction. If your boat is old and about to give in at any moment, make sure that you either fix her up or make plans to purchase a new one.
When it comes to boating safety, you can never be too cautious and the Marine Unit of the Environmental Police of Rhode Island couldn't agree more. Their job is to make sure that every sailor is following proper boat safety protocol, to investigate boating accidents, and to conduct search and rescues on the water. Just like the USCG, the Marine Unit only wants to protect all RI boaters and ensure that they enjoy their boating experiences. And the best way to make sure your boat is in its best condition possible is by getting an RI boat inspection. If you're unsure of where to look for information on RI boat inspections you can learn all about its importance in our blog article here.
Come Dock and Enjoy a Summer of Fun at East Greenwich Marina!
East Greenwich Marina provides a safe and welcoming place for you to dock your boat in RI. We're big on safety too, and as a safe harbor ri marina, we aim to provide boaters a place to tie up, sit back, and relax before continuing your adventures. Our marina is nestled in the perfect spot in Greenwich cove to maximize your relaxation while you prepare your boat for a day out on the water. With all of our amenities, gorgeous scenery and waterfront restaurants, you won't want to ever sail away. With over 85 slips available and in-water winter storage, we offer year round opportunities for maintaining your boat. Come visit us, we promise you won't regret reserving a slip with us at East Greenwich Marina in RI!