The media has been saturated with the gripping story of four athletes who went fishing off Clearwater, Fla. National Football League players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith along with former University of South Florida football players Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler were thrown into the sea when their boat capsized.

These men set off confident in their knowledge and skill, but were overpowered by nature. The tragic result of an enjoyable outing of four friends reminds us all to take proper care when setting out upon the waters. Boating is thought to be relatively safe. In most places, a person with no boating experience can rent a boat and take to the high seas — no questions asked.

Most boating accidents are preventable. It starts with everyone on a boat wearing a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Wearing a life jacket will keep you afloat and help delay the effects of hypothermia. Life jackets save lives.

Massachusetts mandates boater education for youths aged 12 to 16; however, the U.S. Coast Guard urges that every boater take a boater education class. Operating a boat requires more than just throttling up or setting a sail and getting under way.

There are navigation rules, weather considerations, knowing how to respond to a person overboard, knowing how to place a distress call and knowing how to respond when you are physically unable — among other bits of knowledge. Educated boaters save lives.

Have your boat checked out to make sure it complies with applicable federal and state regulations for boats. These checks conducted by the Coast Guard Auxiliary help make sure that you have the necessary safety equipment on your boat. Safe boats save lives. To obtain a vessel safety check, call 508-627-7960 to make an appointment. Want to know what equipment your size boat requires? Go to

File a float plan ( with a friend or other relative. Make sure they know where you plan on boating and when you plan to return. They also need to know whom to call if you do not return at the indicated time.

Make sure you have effective communications for your boating outing. A marine band VHF-FM radio can be extremely valuable, but has limited range. Additionally, cell phones become less effective the farther you are from shore and may receive no signal at all beyond 15 to 20 miles.

Be prepared for sudden and dramatic changes in weather whether you are a couple of miles offshore or 20 miles away from land. It is common for fog to develop or strong winds to start blowing.

Listen to weather forecasts before you go and on your VHF-FM marine radio while under way. Many times, weather near shore is significantly calmer than weather offshore, and knowing the forecast for your intended destination can help you decide whether to leave the dock, stay in more protected areas or even stay at home.

What if you end up in the water unintentionally? If you are wearing your life jacket, you’re halfway there. If the boat capsizes, keep everyone together and stay with the boat. Flares, mirrors, strobe lights, whistles and other signaling devices allow rescuers to quickly locate people who are already in the water and need help. The Coast Guard will search at night as well as during daylight; anything that will make you more visible significantly aids your ability to be detected.

Boating statistics from 2007 recently released by the Coast Guard show that there were 685 boating related deaths that year. Of these, 69 per cent were caused by drowning. Of those that drowned, 89 per cent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket. Other facts: 83 per cent of the accidents were caused by boats less than 26 feet in length, and 75 per cent of the fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction. Most accidents, both fatal and non-fatal were the result of colliding with another vessel. Massachusetts had 36 accidents in 2007 with nine fatalities.

Let’s all make it a safe season this year on Vineyard. Wear your life jacket and boat defensively.


Ron Walsh lives in Edgartown.