Safe Boating Week: use your head (no pun intended)

A long time ago Mark Twain said, “common sense ain’t all that common.” Since this upcoming week is National Safe Boating Week – May 21 – 27, 2011 – those words ring loud and true.

Unless you live in a Tropical region where boating is a year-‘round activity, many of us get rusty in the offseason. In the fall many of us turn our attention to hunting and in the winter we might shift to ice fishing or to skiing. When the spring rolls around and the weather gets nice our thoughts turn to boating. Boating is like riding a bicycle, true, but our skills probably got a little rusty with the lack of use. Practice trailering your boat, review operating manuals for chart plotters, depth finders and radio stations. A quick refresher brings them to the forefront of our mind. I recently heard a story of a boater who stuck a nozzle at a gas pump in a rod holder and filled his bilge with a hundred dollars of regular.

Getting back in the swing of things isn’t hard, and a good place to start is with a safety inspection. U.S. Coast Guard agents offer convenient inspections. Check your lines, your fenders, your anchor, and make sure that you have a kit with a flare, a whistle and a mirror.

Life preservers have come along way in recent years. While you’re checking to match the number with your passenger count also look to make sure that the style suits the size and weight of your crew. In 2009, drowning was the #1 cause for boating fatalities. Life jackets are lighter and more comfortable than ever, and many have CO2 auto inflators. Wearing them while onboard in rough conditions makes sense, and keeping them handy is a great idea. Having them buried in a hatch under anchors and gear doesn’t help the cause.

Rules of the road should be refreshed, too. Most boaters yawn at the though of sitting down with Chapman’s book, but how many times are you on the water where you witness another boater violating the most basic of rules? Long-time boaters should pass their knowledge and experience along to other members on their boat. They’ll be ready to successfully take over the helm at a moment’s notice. Or try an online course through the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division at or at the National Safe Boating Council at

Many of us have heard that the word BOAT is an acronym for “Break Out Another Thousand.” Sometimes it’s true, but most of the time getting our boat out of hibernation requires a few simple tasks. Electrical problems from faulty trailer lights to non-working marine radios can be easily corrected by rewiring electrical connections. Water has a way of corroding just about everything in time, and while you’re rewiring your radio connection why not just replace them all? Another good idea is to install new breaker panels. Replacing panels as well as batteries every few years whether they need it or not reduces opportunities for failure. Changing filters, such as fuel, oil, and water pump filters, keeps your engine purring like a kitten. And if you’re trailering your boat check your rollers, bunks, and hubs. The repeated launching and loading process gives trailer parts an opportunity to corrode.

Repetition is the easiest way to achieve mastery, and by going through the motions you’ll have a safe boating season.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at