Coast Guard stresses boat safety for the Fourth of July holiday

Updated: Jul. 3, 2018 at 1:11 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Just two weeks after a man's legs were mangled in an accident along the coast of Myrtle Beach and following multiple drownings in parts of the Carolinas, officials are stressing safety on the water this Independence Day holiday.
Many people are enjoying time on the water this Fourth of July. It's important to be responsible and take necessary precautions during one of the highest boating traffic times of the season. Of course, the Coast Guard wants you to have fun on the waters, but they want to remind you to be safe.

"Boating is fun… and we don't want to take away from that-- and we talk about safety, safety, safety. But, we just want to let people know that boating can be fun and we encourage it. We just hope that people do it in a safe manner," said VanderWeit.

Before you head out into the waters to have fun, it's important to know how to safely get on and off the boat. You also need to know where the engine and propellers are on the boat. The engine should be turned off and out of gear when you have any swimmers in the water to avoid any accidents.

Ensign Phillip VanderWeit with the Coast Guard, Sector Charleston, says it really depends on the body of water you're in but, a good distance to keep in mind when swimming around the boat is 20 feet. But, it's important to remember with the currents, boats can shift quickly. So, before you maneuver your boat, make sure to look around the whole vessel.

VanderWeit says every year, the Coast Guard Sector Charleston, has about 400 "Search and Rescue" cases. Noting well over half of that number happens during the Summer boating months. He tells me one of the more common calls the Coast Guard gets are for disabled vessels. So, VanderWeit stresses proper service proper your boat hits the water.

He said we're affected by tides not in the ocean, but in some parts of our rivers too. So, paying attention to the forecast is key.

"Just being aware of what the tides are looking like that day… not putting yourself in the situation where it's deep now and in a couple hours later, it might become shallow. Just paying attention to your charts, knowing where you're at-- and if you don't know where you're at, try to seek some information and find out… instead of going up a creek and getting stuck there until the next high tide comes in. So, just being aware of your surroundings, paying attention," said VanderWeit.

The Coast Guard says boaters should make sure all the proper safety equipment is on board and up to date, like the fire extinguisher and life jackets. You want to make sure the life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard approved and fitted for everyone on board. VanderWeit said it’s important to make sure your boat's properly equipped and that required equipment is functioning properly.

He also stressed if you're heading out on the water, make sure you tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back.
With the Fourth of July holiday, drinking will likely be involved and officials stress to never boat under the influence.  Also, this a time where some may venture out on the water after dark. If you are, make sure your navigation lights work so you can be seen.
Communication is key when you're on the water.  It's important to have a radio on board, a phone or a personal locator beacon, and always have a back-up.

"In order to have a successful rescue, we have to know where you are. We have to know what your distress is. So we encourage folks to help us take the "search" out of "search and rescue"-- and ways you can do that is being prepared with the proper equipment… with the proper communications equipment. To let us know that there is an emergency-- once that happens… the quicker we can get to you, the better. And the way we can get to you quicker is if you let us know where you are… if you have the proper equipment on board. We just really want people to have fun out there, but also to be prepared for the unpredictable," said VanderWeit.

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