Safety measures can save your life

Un barco de suministro de panga típico

This post is also available in: Spanish

On the Water

By Ilene Little

The example in this story is based on true and recent events.

On Wednesday, April 16, a woman lost her life as a result of being on a boat reported by some to be overloaded with eight passengers and supplies. They made an open-ocean crossing of many miles in a panga too late in the day.

They were close to their destination when the boat took a wave over the side and swamped. The captain swam to shore to try to get help. As the boat sank, the passengers also attempted to swim to shore. They were swimming for over an hour at night against a strong current. Only seven passengers survived. The body of the woman who lost her life was found on the shore the following morning.

Safety first

A typical panga supply boat

A typical panga supply boat.

If you think the boat is over-loaded, it probably is. If you think the seas are too rough for a crossing, it probably is. If you’re a local, and particularly a waterman, you know the weather patterns at a particular time of year or time of day that increase the risk of high winds, strong currents and hence, rough seas.

As a former US Coast Guard-licensed bare-boat captain who made my living being responsible for other people’s lives on one-day, overnight and week-long cruises, I know that people rely on the boat captain to make safety decisions for them.

Not all boat drivers are as concerned about safety as they are about their schedules or head-count fares. That being said, I can also relate to the pressure on some captains whose employers, charter boat agents, or local communities expect them to keep an inflexible schedule regardless of the risk.

Consider making yourself a safety checklist, rather like a pre-flight checklist, where if certain factors or a combination of factors are present, you choose not to get in the boat.

Personal Safety Boating Checklist

  1. Always use your common sense about the weather, the time of day, and the length of the voyage.
  2. Have an idea of your location (north / south / closest land).
  3. Keep an eye on the mannerisms of the captain and crew; are they acting professionally? Do they have control of the vessel?
  4. Do you see the minimum safety equipment for you to feel safe?
    1. Flotation devices (For example, life preservers).
    2. Fire extinguishers (Fiberglass is very flammable).
    3. Flares.
    4. Mirror, horn, radio.
    5. An auxiliary means of power (Depending on the size of the boat that can mean anything from paddles to a second motor).

Having run through your person-safety checklist, enjoy the wonderful and adventurous world of boating!


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