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Safe Cruising Tips for Boaters and Bikers

By Lee Michael Katz

  • Whether you hit the highway or the water this summer, take these precautions ahead of time.

    If you cruise on a boat or motorcycle, the desire to feel the wind in your face and the sun at your back rises with warmer temperatures. But before you and your family set off for carefree, outdoor fun, a few simple precautions can keep everyone safe.

    On the Water
    Casting off into the water can be a lot of fun. And, to ensure your fun, you have to boat safe — the U.S. Coast Guard notes that 758 people died and 3,081 were injured in recreational boating accidents in 2011.

    Follow these tips to help keep yourself and your family safe so you can enjoy your days on the water:

    • Learn safe boating techniques. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that about 70 percent of all boating accidents occur because of operator error. Reduce that risk with "Boat Smart" courses from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and state boating associations. To get started, check out online resources like the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safety Resource Center, which is loaded with detailed advice on safe boating.
    • Get inspected. Before you start pleasure cruising, get a safety inspection. Go to the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary's Vessel Safety Check website, where you can submit a request for a safety inspection. Either the auxiliary or the nonprofit boating safety group United States Power Squadrons will conduct a free safety check. It usually takes only 15 to 30 minutes, and checks include vital navigation lights, fire extinguishers and distress signals.
    • File a "float plan" before launching and leave it with a friend or family member. This form can be found online (floatplancentral.org) and lists all the information the Coast Guard needs for emergency action. It's not required, but it can be a lifesaver. The Coast Guard does not accept float plans from recreational boaters before they head out on the water, but you should leave your plan with a trusted friend or family member. Then, if you don't return when expected, your contact can hand your plan over to the guard.
    • Wear a life jacket. It may seem obvious, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that more than 90 percent of drowning fatality victims didn't wear a life jacket. The Coast Guard reminds boaters that there are federal or state regulations regarding life jacket wear by children — and adult jackets are not suitable for kids. SafeBoatingCampaign.com offers a kids' boating safety site. Additionally, BoatUs.com offers a section dedicated to boating with pets.
    Behind the Handlebars
    Motorcycle enthusiasts enjoy the freedom of open-air riding but lose out on the protection of a car safety cage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says 4,612 motorcyclists were killed and 81,000 injured in 2011.

    Here are a few ways to rev up safety precautions and relish the time spent riding your motorcycle:

    • Be visible. "People driving cars often just don't see motorcycles," cautions the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. They advise putting reflective decals on your clothing and bike; keeping your headlights on, day and night; and trying to avoid riding in drivers' blind spots.
    • Warn vehicles of your presence. "If a motorist doesn't see you, don't be afraid to use your horn," notes the safety foundation, advising a quick "beep" to alert someone of your presence. Flash your brake light when slowing down.
    • Wear your helmet as if your life depends on it, because it does. The NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,550 motorcyclists' lives in 2010. Sadly, 706 more might have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. The NHTSA has a guide to choosing the right helmet, from the proper liner to the chinstrap. All motorcycle helmets are required to meet federal Department of Transportation (DOT) standards and display a DOT sticker. If a helmet doesn't have this sticker, it doesn't offer adequate protection. In addition, a Snell Foundation serialized label indicates that the helmet meets the foundation's rigorous safety standards.
    Have a safe summer!