According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), “Eliminating Distractions” has topped their annual Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.
If you thought distracted driving only applied to cars, you’d be wrong. Increased use of personal electronic devices by vessel operators is a growing problem.
Don’t use your phone. Even hands-free conversations can take your attention off the water and lead to serious accidents. Unlike cars on the highways, boaters are typically zigzagging all over the water—plus boats come in many vastly different sizes and move at very different rates of speed. If you need to contact someone, wait until you’re docked or anchored, or have a passenger or crew member do it for you.
Hold off on the alcohol. Wait until you’re safely ashore or docked for the night. When added to the effects of sun, wind and waves, alcohol lowers situational awareness. Pack and consume lots of water and other nonalcoholic beverages.
Know your boat controls. Spend time on land memorizing the location of your boat controls so you won’t be steering head down, trying to figure out where things are while underway.
Be the captain! Have someone else check instruments or equipment on board. Ditto for adjusting the music, communicating with water skiers, and taking pictures. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and can increase your risk of an accident.
Learn to SCAN
Search the area all around your craft. This is a 360-degree examination of everything on the water around your boat. Distances away will close or open depending on your speed or the speed of the observed boat or object. The faster you’re operating, the farther out you’ll need to search.
Concentrate on what you’re seeing. Is it a boat? What type? What is it doing? What is its relative speed? Is it a stationary object? Drifting or anchored? Things can happen fast out there, so these are questions you must consider while you look at the various observed boats or objects.
Analyze what you’re watching. Is it closing in on your position or going away from you? Remember, if the object you’re observing is at a constant bearing with decreasing range (meaning you’re getting closer to it, and its relative position to you is not changing), it is on a collision course. If it’s another boater, do you believe he or she sees you? Never assume you’re seen by other boat operators, who may or may not be distracted. Determine this by the way and direction they’re operating. Analyze how far away the boat or object is and how fast it is closing the distance between you and it.
Negotiate. What are you going to do? Slow down, turn away from the boat or object, and head in a different direction? Remember the Navigation Rules. Learn the proper action to take while meeting head on, crossing, or overtaking another boat.