March 2007

Arizona Boaters Urged To Be Safe In 2007

By Ed Huntsman, AZGFD

Boating Safety Education Program Manager

A boating accident, often resulting in property damage, personal injury, or more tragically a death, is a terrible way to introduce anyone to the world of boating and water-related recreational activity.

Last year was the most catastrophic year since 1998 in Arizona for boating-related deaths, injuries and property damage. We now have an opportunity to change our behavior and avoid becoming a similar statistic for 2007.

While many call the 14 heartbreaking deaths and 259 boating incidents recorded in Arizona during 2006 "accidents," following even the most basic rules of good and prudent seamanship would eliminate most, if not all, of these terrible events and the resulting tragic consequences they create.

True enough, we may not be planning an open ocean voyage of several days or weeks and see little need for the rules of seamanship to guide our planning for a day on the lake or a weekend fishing trip on the river. But, I can tell you that the water doesn’t know the difference and quite often the reason that an ocean voyage is (seemingly) safer is because boaters take the potential hazards seriously and prepare properly beforehand.

The Colorado River and Arizona’s inland lakes pose many of the same hazards and opportunities for problems that ocean-going boats and sailors experience—and in some extreme situations — even more.

There are many things to consider before getting out on your favorite body of water with the boat during the year, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department joins the National Safe Boating Council and others in offering four easy-to-follow basic principles for a safer year for you and your family on the water before you do. Simply stated, the four principles are —

    1. Wearing life jackets saves lives:  Most, if not all, boating-safety education professionals agree that the one single thing that would contribute the most to reducing deaths and saving lives would be wearing life jackets. Statistics show time and time again that many boating fatalities could have been avoided if the victim had only been wearing a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket while boating is like wearing a seat belt when driving or riding in a car. Wear one anytime you are on a boat or even near the water or on a boat dock. And, with the new inflatable life jacket technology in the marketplace, a variety of life jackets are available for those over the age of 16 that are not bulky, hot or uncomfortable. Don’t forget that for those boaters who are 12 years of age or younger, the law requires them to wear a life jacket (properly sized, fitted and worn to the manufacturer’s specifications) any time they’re on a boat that is underway (not at anchor, made fast to the shore or aground) — even when launching or retrieving your boat.
    2. Boater education saves lives: Get, be and stay prepared: Take a boating safety education course. Statistics show that more than 80 percent of those involved in boating fatalities have never taken a boating safety course or had any other type of formal boating education. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has excellent volunteer instructors who offer numerous classes across the state throughout the year. These classes offer introductory and basic information in such subject areas as different boat types, things you need to know before getting underway, how to tow and operate your boat correctly, legal requirements, basic weather, boating emergencies and what to do as well as other interesting subject areas about boats and boating. The department’s instructors are eager, able and ready to help you learn more about operating your boat safely and proficiently. And in most cases, these classes are offered free of charge. Once you complete the brief introductory eight hour course, check with your insurance agent as most companies offer a reduced insurance premium to educated boat owners and operators. National Association of State Boating Law Administrator (NASBLA) certified courses are also offered by other organizations such as the Red Cross, Power Squadron, Coast Guard Auxiliary, The Maritime Institute of San Diego (with courses in Arizona), and other boating organizations.
    3. Safe boats save lives: Get a free Vessel Safety Check: Boats that are properly equipped, in good operating condition, and safe from hazards are less likely to be involved in accidents and fatalities. While the law doesn’t require certain items or supplies such as an anchor, visual distress signals or other safety equipment on inland lakes, Federal requirements on the Colorado River are more stringent and demanding. The Arizona Game and Fish Department or local law-enforcement officers would be happy to check your boat for you. Or, contact representatives of the Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron to request a free Vessel Safety Check by visiting and clicking on "I WANT A VSC." Learn what you need to have to make sure your boat is always seaworthy and ready to go.
    4. Sober boating saves lives: Avoid alcohol and other drugs while on or near the water. Approximately 40 percent of all boating fatalities involve the use of alcohol. If you are drunk and get into an accident on the water, but are fortunate enough to survive, you will likely suffer financial and personal consequences such as large fines and the possible loss of automobile driving privileges. Drugs and alcohol don't just impact the boat operator; passengers who have been drinking alcohol, for example, are 10 times more likely to fall overboard. And, if they aren’t wearing life jackets, possibly face drowning.  You hear it all the time: Water and alcohol don't mix! Arizona is a zero-tolerance state and that means any boat operator impaired to the slightest degree could be arrested. Don’t risk a great day on the water—keep a good day good and go home safe.

Following these four basic boating tips will help keep you safe. The Arizona Game and Fish Department hopes that you and your loved ones enjoy boating during 2007 and in the years to come. Safe boating is no accident — keep a good day on the water good by following these four easy-to-follow basic principles.

A lifelong boater, in addition to managing the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s boating-safety education program, Ed Huntsman serves on the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ Education Committee, National Safe Boating Council’s Training and Education Committee, the Board of Directors of the National Water Safety Congress, is an American Sailing Association instructor and licensed Coast Guard Captain.