July 2010


Author: Courtney Hampson

Cruise by any Lowcountry boat landing and you’ll witness two things: a man falling in love with his boat and a woman falling out of love with her husband. Okay, I jest; but I’m not that far off. Being a boat owner is stressful.

Have you ever had to put your boat on a trailer, and back that trailer down a boat ramp, navigating around other anxious boaters (their kids, coolers, fishing gear and dogs), while your significant other calls out directions?

Left. Left. Go left! However, turning the wheel left actually turns the trailer to the right? It’s not fun and your boat isn’t even in the water yet!

I could pen a book as long as Moby Dick to tackle the topic of boat safety, but instead I talked to the experts, who insist that practice makes perfect in the world of boating. Practice also eliminates some of the stress of boating.

According to Grant Kaple, general manager of the Hilton Head Boathouse, your best bet is to gain experience. “You have to be vigilant on the water; you have little control,” he says. “Water is a siren—she calls to you and she challenges you. She also gives back if you don’t take advantage of her.”

The biggest mistakes on the water are often made when folks are over-confident and under-prepared. “People spend plenty of timing making sure they have all of their entertainment items on board—food, drink, radio, sunscreen—but not enough time doing an equipment check,” said Kaple. Before you brave the seas, you should ensure that your equipment is functional—that your engine is in good repair (and has had a check-up every 100 hours), your battery is charged, and your lights work.

Safety is also key. And safety equipment is, in fact, required per the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Every boat must have the following:

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs). All boats must have a U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable type PFD for each person aboard or being towed. Each PFD must be in good condition, readily available and the proper size for the intended wearer. In addition, boats 16 feet in length or longer must carry a Type IV “throwable” device. In South Carolina, any person under 12 years of age must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD when on board a class “A” (less than 16 ft. long) boat.

Fire Extinguisher. One Coast Guard approved hand-held portable fire extinguisher must be aboard each boat less than 26 ft. if the boat is carrying passengers for hire or if the construction permits the entrapment of flammable vapors or if it has a permanently installed gas tank, including gas tanks that use any type of fastener that would hamper the immediate removal of the tank from the boat. Additional extinguishers are required on boats larger than 26 ft. (Contact SCDNR for complete regulations.)

Navigation Lights must be on between official sunset and sunrise.

Flares are required for vessels in coastal waters.

Bells, Whistle. All boats less than 39.4 feet must carry an efficient sound producing device. Every vessel from 39.4 to 65.6 feet must carry a whistle and a bell.

In talking to some of the Lowcountry’s experienced boat captains, you’ll find that common boating mistakes often have to do with excessive speed and lack of experience.

Captains George and Trey at Palmetto Bluff’s Wilson Landing agree on the importance of being aware of other boaters and their potential lack of boating skills and knowledge. Your best bet is to be a considerate, defensive and educated boater—one who understands the rules of the “road.” You need to familiarize yourself with the waterways, the channels, the sandbars, and the oyster beds—one wrong turn and your day can quickly go downhill (or down river).

Consensus is that speed is a big issue and often results in other mishaps. For example, when was the last time you tried to dead-lift 5,000 pounds at the gym? Never, right? Which is exactly why you shouldn’t be putting your hand out in front of you to stop the boat from the hitting the dock. In fact, if the driver takes the “slow and steady” approach coming in, you won’t be crashing into the dock anyway.

Speaking of that dock, if you go flying in at top speed and create a wake, you are not only a nuisance to other boaters, but now you are battling your own wake to get to the dock.

If you’re not following the rules of the river, chances are someone is going to notice, namely, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Officer, Tom Hodgins, who is in charge of patrolling the local waterways. According to Hodgins, “I often stop boats randomly for no other reason than to inspect them for the proper safety equipment. I also look for a variety of boating violations, such as negligent or reckless operation, idle speed or no wake zone violations, registration violations, and boating under the influence.”

The bottom line is that you can only control your boat and your passengers, so be hypersensitive to what others may do. The more prepared you are, the less stress you’ll be under, the easier it will be to enjoy the ride, and frankly, the happier your marriage or other significant relationship may be.

So, in the immortal words of Grant Kaple, “You have a choice. Slow like a pro, or fast like an ass. You decide.”

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

United States Coast Guard Boating Safety Division

General Check List for Safety & Preventative Maintenance of Your Boat
(to be performed by the boat owner or their designated maintenance/repair personnel)

Almost all elements of safety revolve around the fact that the boat has been maintained and all its parts and systems are able to perform as they were designed. Negligence in this area will eventually lead to an unsafe or disastrous experience.
Many boats sink at the dock or shortly after being launched due to negligence.
Below is a general check list that can help to prevent safety hazards and expensive repairs.

(Voltage– with charger turned on/off)
(Battery Fluid Levels)

(Check bilges and pumps)

Lift each float to verify operation

Air Conditioning
(Check raw water strainers if AC is left on)

Engine(S) & Generator(S)
(Check fluid levels)

Inspect raw water strainers; clean as required

Turn on engine room blowers; start and run engines and generator to temp

Verify good exhaust water flow

Fresh Water & Heads
(Check fresh water pump pressure)
(Inspect and flush each head)
(Do not leave dock water pressure “ON” on unattended vessel)

Run vessel away from dock/slip

Turn on and verify all : power, control, navigation & auxilliary systems

Test smoke and fume/gas detectors

Visually inspect AC units, return air filters, condensate pans/drains

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article