TWRA urges boating safety during July Fourth weekend

From Staff Reports

   The Fourth of July holiday usually marks the busiest recreational boating activity of the year.
   The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency offers a few pointers to ensure that boaters enjoy a fun and safe holiday weekend.
   * Make sure the boat is currently registered; if a boat registration has expired, a boater may renew the registration at the nearest outlet where hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
   * Boaters must have a wearable life jacket onboard for every person; keep life jackets easily accessible and remember -- all children under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket at all times while on a boat underway (drifting is considered underway). TWRA reports that 80 percent of all people who drown in boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket.
   * Make sure your navigation lights work and carry extra fuses and bulbs; lights must be on at night and during times of restricted visibility.
   * Fire extinguishers are required if a boat has enclosed storage compartments, closed living spaces, and is 26 feet in length or longer. Fire extinguishers are required on personal watercraft, so TWRA asks PWC operators to check the fire extinguisher to make sure it is fully charged.
   * TWRA also enforces boating laws pertaining to boating while intoxicated and alcohol use on the water; the agency advises boaters to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum and to choose a designated boat operator.
   The agency reports that alcohol affects people three times faster on the water than on land because of external "stressors" such as heat, glare, motion, and vibration. The most common cause of accidents is operator inattention -- which leads to collisions - which leads to injuries and sometimes fatalities.
   The agency also urges recreational boaters to take steps to avoid potential dangers associated with carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless, and highly toxic gas produced by boat engines, generators, and stoves. TWRA advises that carbon monoxide can accumulate inside boat engine compartments.
   The agency also reports that, unbeknownst to many boaters, the gas can pool in deadly concentrations outside the boat as well. Carbon monoxide may accumulate around engine and generator exhaust outlets, under and around swim platforms, and even in an open cabin when conditions are right.
   TWRA reports growing evidence suggests carbon monoxide-related illnesses, injuries, and fatalities on the water may be far greater than reported.
   Many boating safety professionals believe that carbon monoxide-related injuries and fatalities may go underreported because they are attributed to other causes such as seasickness or intoxication. There is growing concern that as many as 15 percent of the deaths attributed to drowning in fact occurred when a swimmer was already unconscious from exposure to carbon monoxide, according to TWRA reports.
   The agency says boaters can greatly reduce the risk to themselves and their passengers by following a few simple suggestions.
   * Know where exhaust outlets for the engines and generator are on the boat, and keep everyone clear
   * Understand how and where CO can accumulate -- for example, when slow speeds and a following wind create a backdraft that draws CO into the cabin
   * Never allow high-risk behaviors like teak surfing
   * Do not sit or hang on, under, or around back deck or swim platforms when the engine or generator is running
   * Treat symptoms like headache, dizziness, and nausea as possible CO poisonings until another cause is pinpointed.