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Water Safety- More Than Just Lifejackets

Summer time is well under way. Scouts are at summer camp, troops are planning boating, swimming and water skiing trips to local lakes and parks. Scouts are taking swimming merit badge and learning the rules of safe swimming. Leaders are always making sure that there is a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) for each Scout. We focus on all these safety features but we often lose focus on the other part of water safety- the person driving the boat.

A few weeks ago Scouts were on an outing at Lake Lavon near Dallas. Scouts were water skiing and tubing on the lake. A Scout fell into the water and was killed when the boat returning to pick him up ran into him. So before the summer is over, perhaps safety rules for driving a boat should be reviewed.

One of the first rules to remember is the rule of the road (at least in the US)- always keep to the right. Even in a wide channel a boater should keep to the right. Boats passing each other from opposite directions should always pass port to port.

In addition to having a life jacket for each person in the boat, the person driving the boat should have a “kill switch” attached to his life jacket. If the driver is thrown overboard, the kill switch stops the boat’s motor. Without this device the boat is likely to continue to run at the speed it was running before the driver was thrown out and might circle back. This might result in an unpleasant situation.

If you are driving a boat and pulling a skier or tuber behind you, there are several key steps to follow to make the boating experience safer:

    Have a positive verbal or hand signal that clearly lets the driver know the skier is ready. A “thumbs up” signal might be appropriate.
    The driver should engage the motor and move forward slowly until the line to the skier/ tuber is taught. Another “thumbs up” from the skier says he is ready to go.
    When the skier falls, he should check the area to see if he sees any danger from other boats. Once he seems to be in a clear area, he should signal the boat driver that he is OK.
    Whether returning to pick up the skier or to bring the tow line back to the skier, the driver should always have a view of the skier and keep the skier on the driver side of the boat.
    Check state regulation- some states require a “skier down” flag when a skier is in the water.
    Cut the engine before allowing a skier to board the boat.

When your Scouts go on their next outing always review the safety guidelines for the Scouts. Remember to review safety with adults as well, especially when powered boats or equipment are involved.


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