PITTSBURGH — The United States Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit — Pittsburgh and its civilian auxiliary volunteers are encouraging boaters and other water enthusiasts in the tri-state area to make safety a priority while having fun with family and friends on this busy Memorial Day weekend.
Before heading off to our waterways, grabbing a kayak or putting the boat in, many people forget to find out what the weather’s going to be like in their area. Anyone can check this at the National Weather Service site, www.weather.gov/pbz.
In addition to checking the weather, there are several important safety measures boaters can take prior to going out on the water:
- Hopefully, you’ve already gotten a free vessel safety check http://cgaux.org/vsc/ conducted by the Coast Guard Auxiliary to ensure your vessel is safe and operable. During the examination, auxiliarists will also ensure that you have the necessary safety equipment. If you have not had your watercraft examined this year, there is a virtual vessel safety check online: http://wow.uscgaux.info/content.phpunit=V-DEPT&category=virtual-safety-check. This should be followed up with an “in-person” vessel examination from the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons or other approved agency as soon as possible.
- File a float plan http://www.floatplancentral.org/ with a responsible friend, family member or local harbormaster. A float plan should include your information, the information of your boat, where you intend to go, when you intend to return and other data. If you do not return at the designated time, a search and rescue mission can be initiated for you.
- Do not mix alcohol use with boating. If you’re planning to drink alcohol, make sure you have a designated boat operator. Or wait until you’re onshore again. Operating a boat while intoxicated is not only dangerous, it is illegal.
- Wear a properly fitting lifejacket. Personal floatation devices significantly increase your chances of survival if you fall overboard. More than 80 percent of drowning victims nationwide last year were not wearing lifejackets.
Boaters are also encouraged to purchase and register an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB. An EPIRB is an important and highly effective piece of life-saving equipment that can send a distress signal via satellite.
Other essential safety equipment includes a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit and a Global Positioning System (GPS).
It is highly recommended boaters maintain a Very High Frequency or VHF radio aboard their vessels at all times. A cell phone to dial 911 can be useful, but it should not be relied upon as the primary piece of communications equipment. Cell phone signals can weaken greatly as you go offshore, as well as in some inland areas, and may not work during an emergency.
Boaters are discouraged from using the term “Mayday” when conducting radio checks; “Mayday” should be used in distress situations only.
Flares and emergency signaling devices are other key pieces of safety equipment. Boat operators should know how to properly use flares in the event of an emergency. Signal flares are for emergencies only. Improper use of flares often becomes a false alarm. Anyone who accidentally fires a flare should notify the nearest maritime enforcement authority as soon as possible.
If you do require assistance or rescue, notify rescuers through VHF Channel 16 immediately. Boaters in distress should not hesitate to call for help.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed, civilian component of the U.S. Coast Guard and assists the service in nearly all of its missions, except for military and direct law enforcement actions.