LeBlanc: Winter boating safety information
Here it is winter time in Southeast Texas, no matter what the calendar says, we've been having winter weather off and on throughout November. I have seldom seen such beautiful color in the foliage of the trees around where we live as there is now, especially at this time of year.
A lot of outdoorsmen are out hunting, and will be throughout the rest of the year on into February or even March. However that may be, there are still plenty of others who will be out on the water fishing as well as enjoying other water sports in our lakes, rivers, or in the bays and Gulf of Mexico. As we are out on the water we must never let our minds drift away from the fact that safety always should be foremost in our minds.
Right now, Lake Conroe is about three feet below pool and numerous sandbars and other structures are sticking up, or are just under the surface of the water. Most other lakes in East Texas like Lake Livingston and Sam Rayburn are also way down low. Also keep in mind that the recent rains we have had around here soaked into the ground, which was vitally important, however it did little to raise the lake level. It did wash a lot of debris into the water and it is evident as you go about the lake. I have always preached that there are no dangerous lakes in the Great State of Texas, just dangerous people driving boats.
There is also to be remembered legitimate accidents that man cannot anticipate and as careful as one may be accidents can happen. All we can do about that is stay alert and do everything we can to prevent them.
Recently, I received some Information from the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water that I found interesting and thought I would share it with you folks.
The first thing that caught my eye was information concerning people falling out of boats. That can be bad enough in the summertime, but in the winter time when the water is cold and can lower your body temperature to a dangerous point called hypothermia, that can compound and already potentially dangerous situation. To further increase a distressing situation, boaters at this time of year may also be loaded down with extra clothing to keep warm in the cool weather.
Before you head out in your boat to go hunting, fishing or just cruising around you need to consider if you or one of your passengers fall overboard how can they readily get back into the boat. Falls overboard is ranked No. 5 on the 2021 U.S. Coast Guard’s list of the “Top Five Primary Accident Types” with 273 accidents, but they also led the most number of deaths (170 fatal), as well as more fatalities than all the other four top accident types combined.
The top four accident types are as follows: No. 1 collision with vessel-1226 accidents with 31 fatal; No. 2 collision with fixed object- 508 accidents with 43 fatal; No. 3 flooding/swamping-461 accidents with 55 fatal; No. 4 grounding-308 accidents with 23 fatal.
It's absolutely necessary to have either a swimmers platform at the back of your boat or a boarding ladder somewhere on the boat for anybody who is in the water at any time and wants to get back into the boat. That goes for any use of any boat be it hunting, fishing, or just day cruising.
Your boarding ladder should be functional and accessible as cold water can quickly sap the strength of a person that is in the water at this time of year. If your boat doesn’t have a built in-ladder, a compact emergency ladder or even a looped line attached to a cleat, pre-rigged with foothold loops every few inches and hung over the transom, can substitute.
I would like to add that a line with footholds is a very poor substitute for a ladder. Just imagine trying to climb a floppy rope with foothold while you are wearing layers of cold, heavy, soaking wet winter clothes. It is not a pretty picture and I wonder how many people can actually do it, but it beats a blank.
Now let's move on to life jackets. Camo styling is designed to help a person blend into their surroundings. Dark green, tan and black camo patterns are remarkable at doing exactly as designed, blending you into your surroundings. However, that’s not a benefit if you happen to be floating in the water and rescuers are searching. If possible, make their job easier and wear a life jacket with high visibility. For paddlers, leaf peeping, or birders this a really good time to secure the life jacket to your body – that includes using buckles.
Actually, to be as safe as possible it pays to wear brightly colored PFDs at all times while on a boat on the water no matter what the activity.
A float plan is always a good idea. Just like hunters or hikers should let a responsible person know when and where they are going and when they anticipate their return, a float plan is as simple as telling a responsible person where you will be going and when you’ll be back. Additionally, leaving a note under your vehicle’s windshield wiper at the launch ramp can help trigger an alarm.