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Santa Barbara’s stunning marine environment makes the city an ideal destination for sailing, attracting both tourists and locals to explore the bordering waters of the Pacific Ocean. However, all vessels require diligence and experience to operate safely. Here are some quick tips to avoiding boating accidents, and important steps to take in the event that an accident occurs.

Stay Alert! Avoiding the Most Common Accidents

Boating accidents can occur on watercraft ranging from small boats and canoes to navy vessels and cruise ships. To help avoid accidents, take defensive steps like these:

  • Ensure that the operator of your boat is both experienced and attentive. Follow the rules of navigation and pay attention to navigation aids.
  • Maintain a safe speed, especially in congested traffic and at night.
  • Maintain vigilance for vessel traffic to avoid collisions. Look in all directions before making any turn, and use caution when traveling directly into the sun’s glare.
  • Avoid rough waters and poor weather conditions to avoid swamping. Be aware that floating debris is more common after heavy rainfall.
  • Ensure that the watercraft receives regular inspection and maintenance to reduce the risk of vessel malfunction.
  • Do not overload passengers onto your vessel.
  • Never operate when fatigued, stressed, or consuming alcohol. Drunk driving poses a serious risk of collision, and intoxicated passengers are likely to fall overboard.

Be Proactive! Preparing Before an Accident

After a boating accident, the resulting shock and confusion can pose additional risks for victims. Here are seven key steps to stay calm and protect yourself and others from further danger.

  1. Get to safety as fast as possible. The greatest risks of boating accidents are drowning and hypothermia, so get yourself and others out of the water as soon as possible. Keep your life jacket on or accessible at all times to help you to stay afloat. If the vessel is broken apart or sinking, climb on floating debris and signal for help. Move the boat out of the path of oncoming vessels. If there’s a chance of fire or explosion, move yourself and others away from the vessel.
  2. Provide medical assistance. Determine if anyone aboard your boat or other vessels involved need first aid. Do not leave the scene, especially if anyone needs medical help. Contact the Coast Guard immediately to let them know that an accident occurred, the location of the accident and what medical assistance may be necessary.
  3. Send a distress call, if needed. Use the International Distress Call on VHF Channel 16: “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY.” Repeat the boat’s call sign or name three times, as well as your name and location, the problem, any injuries and the type of help you need, a description of the distressed vessel, whether the vessel it is “seaworthy,” or operational on the water, and your radio’s listening frequency and schedule.
  4. Gather information. Once everyone is out of immediate danger, obtain names, addresses, and contact information of all boat operators, passengers, and eyewitnesses involved. Additionally, obtain the registration or ID number of the other vessels involved, as well as the insurance company names and policy numbers of everyone involved. Take photographs of the damage and location where the accident occurred.
  5. File an accident report. The report can be used by the U.S. Coast Guard to determine how the accident occurred. Federal law requires that a boating accident report is filed in the event of serious injury, disappearance or death of anyone involved. Additionally, a report must be filed if the vessel is destroyed or lost, or if there is at least $500 of damage to the vessels or to property.
  6. Do not speculate. Be accurate, but do not volunteer unnecessary information, offer apologies, or accept responsibility. Consult with an experienced boating accident lawyer for assistance in filing appropriate reports and pursuing compensation.
  7. Seek a medical opinion. Symptoms of serious injury may be masked due to shock and adrenaline. After the accident, tell your physician that you were involved in a boating accident, as they may want to provide specific care or procedures.

A boating accident can happen suddenly, so prepare ahead of time by printing out this handy pamphlet, familiarizing yourself with the steps, and keeping it in a waterproof container that’s easy to access in your vessel.