UNITED STATES COAST GUARD AUXILIARY UNOFFICIAL NEWSLETTER
|Safety tips from local officials and the Coast Guard|
• Have a life jacket readily available to everyone on board.
• Boating and alcohol don't mix. Boating while intoxicated is a crime.
• Make sure safety equipment is intact and in accordance with federal and state regulations. Take advantage of the Coast Guard Auxiliary's free inspections to ensure that everything is in working order.
• Know your boat and its capabilities.
• Have a VHF marine radio on board in case of emergency. Cell phones are unreliable on the water.
• Be familiar with the waters you are entering. Some areas have hidden rocks and other obstructions.
• Check the weather and your gas tank before heading out.
• Know the "rules of the road."
• Leave a trip plan with someone. Say where you are going and when you expect to be back.
BEING A BETTER BOATER
By JONATHAN KAY
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: July 5, 2003)
While out on a routine patrol last summer, Coxswain Greg Porteus of the Coast Guard Auxiliary's Flotilla 67 of Ossining spotted something yellow bobbing in the Hudson River under the Bear Mountain Bridge. As he approached, Porteus saw that the object was an upside-down personal watercraft spinning in circles with its operator clinging to it.
With a tugboat bearing down about a half mile away, Porteus and the two crew members of the Patrolman Henry A. Walburger raced to the operator and pulled him and his wife and two children out of the water.
The man's 3-year-old daughter was blue from hypothermia. The crew moved to take off her wet life jacket and wrap her in a blanket and a dry life preserver when the girl stopped them.
"She said, 'My mommy said never take this off until I'm on land. You can't take this off me,' " Porteus recalled.
The operator had disregarded several important safety rules while out on the Hudson that day. He had four people on a two-person watercraft; he did not wear the safety bracelet that would have stopped the engine when he fell off; and he did not have an understanding of his craft's capability.
But the family followed the rule that saves the most lives every year: All four were secured with well-fitting life jackets.
"If they didn't have life jackets, there definitely would have been fatalities," Porteus said.
The Coast Guard estimates that 700 recreational boaters will die in U.S. waters this year, but it says almost all accidents are preventable with basic boat-safety knowledge. "Knowledge is the key to safety," said Kevin Lustyik, coxswain for the Coast Guard Auxiliary's Tarrytown Flotilla 66. "If you know your equipment and know how to operate your equipment, you'll be safe."
This basic knowledge is available to the public in intensive six- to eight-week courses taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Power Squadron, a boater-education organization. The instruction is free; students are asked only to pay for their textbooks, which typically range from $35 to $60.
"I recommend a boating safety course to all of my customers because you don't just know the rules of the water," said Cynthia Thompson, manager of Ebb Tide, a boat dealership in Port Chester.
But New York, unlike neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut, does not require most boaters to take a course before heading out on the water.
"Everybody should be licensed to operate a motorboat because, just like a car, it can be a very dangerous vessel," said Lt. Andrew S. Landau, commanding officer of the Mamaroneck village marine police unit and Westchester's boating safety coordinator.
Officials who patrol the Hudson River and Long Island Sound agree that a vast majority of accidents result from ignorance of the boat and the waters.
"We see a lot of people out there who just have no idea," said Brendan Collins, captain of Mamaroneck's Sea-Tow, which mostly deals with boats that have run out of fuel. "They head out and hope for the best."
Many boaters are also unaware of federal and state requirements for safety equipment, which includes fire extinguishers, flares and a properly fitting life jacket for everyone on board, officials said.
"You have to be equipped for what you don't expect to happen," Lustyik said. "When you're out there, you are your own ambulance, fire department and police department."
Boaters not in accordance with the regulations can be fined.
"A lot of times, even if boaters have extinguishers or flares, they are outdated. People tend to not really pay attention to the stuff they don't use as much," said Michael Messa, a Yonkers police marine officer.
Officials stress the importance of checking the weather before heading out and having an understanding of the hazards of Westchester's waterways.
"The (Long Island) Sound is very dangerous," Landau said. "One minute, it can be as flat as your bathtub, and the next minute you can have four- to six-foot rollers coming in from an approaching storm."
The dueling currents of the Hudson pose dangers to people who choose to leave their boat to swim, and they led to the drowning deaths of two boys off Croton Point Park in 2001, Lustyik said.
"Once (the current) starts here, you can't swim against it unless you are an Olympic swimmer," he said.
The state requires anyone under 31 to take a safety course before operating a personal watercraft and, starting next year, the law will extend to all ages.
Aside from this regulation, the state is mostly void of licensing requirements. But many local officials said the evolution of the personal watercraft law shows that it's just a matter of time before safety courses become mandatory for the operation of all watercraft.
Until then, officials said, they will be dedicated to education.
"We try to educate the public though enforcement," said Officer George Farrell of the Yonkers police marine unit. "That's what I think I'm out here for — to educate the people who don't know."
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We Need You-- The Coast Guard Auxiliary is called upon to provide essential services to the Coast Guard as they focus more heavily on their military missions. We need all the help we can get. You needn't own a boat or be an experienced boater, since our missions are wide-ranging. For information about Auxiliary missions and the Auxiliary in general, go to our Join the Auxiliary web page. You will find there a form through which you can ask that a local Auxiliarist make contact with you to explore the ways in which you can assist Team Coast Guard.