This has been a particularly deadly year for accidents on the water in Vermont. Vermont averages 1.2 deaths per year in boating accidents. This year, five people have died and one remains missing. Those affected were using all sorts of boats—canoe, sailboat, recreational motor boat—on a wide array of waterways—a creek, a river, and Lake Champlain. While many accidents are unavoidable, some may be prevented with additional care.
Everyone should wear a life jacket. People of all ages, even strong swimmers, need to have a life jacket physically fastened to their body while they are in a boat. Like wearing a seatbelt in a car, this act alone could save countless lives. If you feel compelled to leave your life jacket on the seat next to you or on the floor, put it on instead. Plenty of people have drowned with a life jacket floating just out of reach.
Take a boater’s safety course. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department offers helpful resources and guidance for boat safety, including a boater safety course and a handbook of boating laws and responsibilities. The course is required for anyone born after 1974 to operate a motorized vessel legally.
Ensure all equipment is in good working order. Faulty equipment or boats that are in poor shape can relate to perilous situations.
Rethink drinking. Like drinking alcohol and driving, drinking and boating is a dangerous combination. Impaired judgement and slower reaction times can put you and your companions in harm’s way.
Consider water temperature. Even when the air is warm, the water can be very cold, especially in the spring and early summer. Extra care should be taken to stay out of the water when it is very cold or to get out of the water and warmed up quickly.
Swim carefully. Swimming safely requires more than knowing how to swim. You must also know the surroundings. For instance, take care to know the depth of the water before diving. Even the middle of lakes can include shoals or other shallow areas. Do not dive before knowing that the water is at least 9 feet deep. Be aware of other environmental hazards, like cyanobacteria, as well.
Be prepared for an accident. Taking a lifesaving course, including CPR, and having a quick way to contact emergency response personnel, like a fully charged cell phone, can prove invaluable in case of an accident. If you are going to be boating in a location with limited cellular service, be sure to have alternate ways to signal for help, like a two-way radio, air horn, or flares.
The deaths on Vermont’s waterways this year have caused families and communities so much anguish. Keep each of these recommendations in mind as you head out on your next boating adventure to help prevent boating accidents and keep yourself and those you are with safe.
James Mithoefer, PA-C, is a physician assistant at SVMC ExpressCare in Bennington. The practice has recently relocated from 140 Hospital Drive to 120 Hospital Drive.