Mike Baron, U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety division
For many recreational boaters, it’s difficult to beat the sense of freedom and independence that comes with taking a boat out singlehanded and boating alone, especially in the peaceful off-season when vacationers don’t crowd the waterways.
But independence goes hand in hand with a greater risk. With a friend or two on board, if you’re injured or fall in the water, there’s someone there to take the helm, help you back in the boat and radio for assistance if necessary. A lone boater has far fewer resources at his disposal if an accident occurs.
If you boat alone, make safety your primary consideration. Prepare by taking a boating safety course, widely available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons, state and local agencies, and commercial providers. There are traditional classroom offerings, online versions and instruction on CD-ROM. Check required safety equipment and ensure you know where everything is. In an emergency, you may have only seconds to get essential lifesaving equipment and call for assistance.
Hypothermia is always a consideration. On the occasional warm day in early spring or late fall, while the air temperature is comfortable, the water temperature is going to be much colder. Dress appropriately in layers and wear socks.
Wear quality nonslip footwear, and remember to take a change of dry clothing in a waterproof bag.
As always, but especially when boating alone, wear a life jacket at all times. If you end up in the water, the buoyancy it provides may help you stay with the boat and get back aboard. If you can’t get back on board, a life jacket may keep you alive until help arrives, and the bright color makes you easier to spot in the water. Consider adding a personal locator beacon (PLB), a whistle and a signal mirror to your life jacket for extra safety.
A VHF radio equipped with digital selective calling (DSC) can also save time in the event of a life-threatening emergency, especially if you’re boating offshore. If you have one, be sure it is registered. At the press of a button, a DSC radio sends an automated digital distress alert containing your Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number, position and the nature of the distress (if entered) to other DSC-equipped vessels and rescue facilities.