Boating safety is an important topic in the Pacific Northwest. There are more boats per capita here than any other part of the country. And with opening day having come and gone and unexpectedly great weather this June virtually everyone – whether they have a boat or not – wants to be on the water. That’s why I’m focusing on boating safety this month.
Boating safety a number of forms. It can be organized by type of vessel (personal watercraft, commercial fishing vessel, pleasure boat, cruise ship, etc.) or organized by type of hazards (drowning, injury by machinery, collision between vessels, etc.).
But I’m not going to be too systematic. Instead I’m going to blog about what’s in the news and happening in our practice.
The first topic this month involves lifejackets. All vessel owners should carry enough lifejackets so that everyone on the boat has one. Not only should they carry lifejackets but they should make sure that they’re properly sized for the occupants of the vessel and that everyone knows both where they’re located and how to properly put them on.
This is not only a good idea, it’s also prescribed by law.
All vessels must be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets called personal flotation devices (PFDs). The quantity and type depends on the length of your vessel and the number of people on board and/or being towed. Each PFD must be in good condition, be the proper size for the intended wearer, and very importantly, be readily accessible! Readily accessible means you must be able to put the PFD on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (vessel sinking, on fire, etc.). PFDs should not be stowed in plastic bags or in locked or closed compartments, and they should not have other gear stowed on top of them.
Not only can a vessel owner be fined for not carrying the proper number of lifejackets, the vessel owner can also be sued for either personal injury or wrongful death if one of his or her passengers suffers injuries or dies because they didn’t have a lifejacket or didn’t know where the lifejackets were on the boat. Carrying the proper number of lifejackets and going through a basic orientation procedure with passengers is not only common sense it’s the only real way to comply both with boating safety laws and limiting exposure for personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.