Three essential tips to ensure smooth sailing this boating season

It’s easy to compile your list of boating must-haves, but if you’re forgetting safety, you could be heading for rough waters.

Safety is the one thing you definitely want to include on your boating list, and being prepared can ensure fun for you and your family all summer long.

Sunscreen and sunglasses? Check. Good food and cold drinks? Of course. Catchy summer tunes? Definitely. It’s easy to compile your list of boating must-haves, but if you’re forgetting safety, you could be heading for rough waters.

Taking a trip to the lake is one of the best ways to escape the blistering Kentucky heat, and each summer thousands of Kentuckians make the trek to one of the state’s 40+ picturesque waterways. As your family prepares for your next boating adventure, make sure safety is included on your prep list. While we can’t plan ahead for everything in life, a bit of caution and preparation could save you from a potentially costly — and deadly — accident.

Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance claims data reveals that May, June and July are the peak months for boating accident occurrences. Collisions top the list of KFB’s boating accident claims – representing 61.7% of all incidents over the past five years – and are commonly associated with driver error. Well more than half (over $4 million) of the nearly $7.4 million that KFB Insurance paid out for 1,691 boating accident claims during the last five years came from that category alone.

Fortunately for KFB policy-holders, most boating accidents submitted as insurance claims have not resulted in bodily harm (just 0.6%), but it is advisable to recognize that accidents with injuries do happen.

Follow these three tips to ensure smooth sailing on Kentucky’s waterways this summer:

  1. Pack smart.
  • Life jackets. Life jackets are a must. Both state and federal law requires a Type I, II or III personal flotation device on all boats. Vessels greater than 16 feet in length must also have a Type IV, or throwable, personal flotation device. All children 12 and under are required to wear a life jacket whenever a boat is in motion.
  • Fire extinguishers. Don’t get burned by negligence. State law requires all boats equipped with a petroleum product consuming device (engine, lantern, stove, etc.) to have a handheld fire extinguisher on board. It may seem silly to worry about fire when you’re surrounded by so much water, but fire claims are no laughing matter. KFB Insurance paid out an average of $5,000 for each boating fire claim over the past five years.  
  • Signaling devices. Make sure you can be heard. Boats 16 feet or longer are required by Kentucky law to have a signaling device capable of producing an audible blast for at least two seconds and that can be heard for a half-mile. Boats 26 feet or longer must have a device that is audible for a mile, and vessels 40 feet or longer must have one with an audible range of 1.5 miles.
  • Navigation lights. Guarantee you can be seen. Any vessel operating on the water between sunset and sunrise must display proper navigation lights. Sidelights are required on the bow (front) of the boat – red on the port (left), green on the starboard (right) – and an all-around white light in the stern (rear). This helps give boaters an indication of the size and speed of other boats on the water when visibility is limited and indicates if a boat is in a meeting, crossing or overtaking position.

All of this gear can be purchased for under $100, but the savings can be priceless when you’re on the water and experiencing an emergency.

  1. Think before you drink.

Most of us are aware that state law forbids drinking in public, but did you know that lakes and waterways are considered public spaces in Kentucky? That means no drinking while on the water, whether you’re driving or just enjoying the cruise as a passenger. It is additionally important to remember that operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not only illegal in all states and a violation of federal law, but it is also extremely dangerous. The National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) says that a boater with a blood alcohol content of .08 (equivalent to a 180-lb. male consuming five beers in one hour) is 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than a boater with a zero blood alcohol level.

  1. Know the ways of the waterways.

Lakes and rivers don’t have painted lanes like our roads, so it’s important to know the ways of the waterways. Collisions account for more boating claims than any other reason. Learning the right of way in the three most common boating situations — meeting, overtaking, and crossing — can help you avoid an accident.

  • When meeting another boat head-on, keep to the right as if you were driving on a road.
  • When overtaking another boat (or passing from behind) go around. Keep in mind that the boat in front of you may not be aware of your presence.
  • When crossing paths with another boat, remember that the boat on the right has the right of way. The boat on the left must give way to the stand-on vessel.
Source: Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources

If you find yourself in an emergency situation on one of Kentucky’s waterways, you can reach an officer by dialing 1-800-252-5378 or by contacting a local law enforcement agent through the nearest Kentucky State Police post. You can also use marine channel 16 to contact your local marina. Safety is the one thing you definitely want to include on your boating list, and being prepared can ensure fun for you and your family all summer long.

>> Need help protecting your boat? Click here to learn more about boat insurance products offered through Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance.