The Dangers of Boating Blind
PAMELA DOTY and R.J. GARREN
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Fort Worth, Texas
There are dangers in boating blind. Now that I have your attention, what I’m referring to is not “blind” in the sense of not being able to see, but by not being properly trained by taking a boater education course. Whether your recreational vessel is powered by an engine or yourself, boating is safer for all of us if you’ve taken a training course that addresses what you need to know about operating your watercraft.
Being on the water is great fun. Some of the best memories in my life are from going fishing with my dad, taking group paddling trips, sailing with friends and riding personal watercraft. I know for a fact that the training I’ve taken for all of those on-water activities has saved my life and the lives of others with me.
According to U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) statistics from the past four years in which an individual’s training was known, an average of 76 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator did not receive any boating safety instruction. In 2018, Outdoor Industry Foundation research identified that 22.9 million people operated some type of paddle craft at least once that year, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates there were more than 12 million registered boats. We would never think of allowing that many people on America’s highways without a driver’s license. The fact that we have so many people operating vessels on the water without any training or certification is mind-boggling.
It would be nice if that knowledge alone was enough to motivate people to get proper training. However, people are more likely to take a training course or wear a life jacket if they perceive a risk or have experienced something hazardous in performing their activity. Why does it take something bad happening to you, or someone you’ve heard about, to scare you into getting training?
The answer to that is found in the Protection Motivation Theory. This psychological theory has been studied for more than 40 years and is basically a framework for how we make decisions. If we have no perception for the probability of being vulnerable to a threat and no concept for the moderate to high severity of a threat, then we aren’t likely to be motivated to change our behavior — or in this case, educate ourselves about preparing for inherent risks. This theory is supported by recent research done by the Outdoor Industry Association that shows paddlers are 14 percent more likely to get training if something scares them about their activity.
Some people profess to only wearing a life jacket if they are scared by weather or water conditions because they know how to swim. However, most deadly incidents happen on calm water and on sunny days, and two-thirds of those who drown know how to swim! According to the USCG, 84 percent of those who drowned in 2018 were not wearing a life jacket.
Most of us never think we’re going to be involved in a deadly boating incident. We associate that with boaters under the influence of alcohol or drugs and the horribly unfortunate people they encounter. Yet, according to USCG recreational boating statistics reports in 2018, alcohol was the leading known contributing factor in only 19 percent of fatal boating incidents where the primary cause was known.
There’s generally nothing risky about boating when it’s done safely. The point I’m trying to make is that by taking a training course, you will be better informed of the risks associated with your type of on-water activity and know how to safely deal with them. You will also be more likely to understand why it’s critical to wear a life jacket.
There are numerous ways to get proper training for your vessel of choice. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have many options for classroom, hands-on and online boating safety courses for all types of recreational vessels. Qualified volunteer organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons/America’s Boating Club and others sponsor courses, and many state boating agencies also provide classes. Explore training opportunities that can make you a better vessel operator and check out this list of options at https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/boating-safety-courses.php.
Don’t wait for something to scare you into getting properly trained. Without training, you’re essentially operating your vessel blindly. Get training now that will help ensure that all your memories on the water are fun and enjoyable!