ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It’s not a Thanksgiving holiday traffic jam. However, for America’s boaters, it may as well be.
Boat Owners Association of The United States says the July 4th holiday is expected to bring record numbers of boaters to the water, jamming lakes, rivers and bays with thousands of revelers celebrating America’s birthday at evening fireworks displays. With nightfall, it also means a heightened awareness with boating safety.
The 24-hour BoatUS on-the-water dispatch centers and TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist towing fleets are expected to receive a total of nearly 3,000 requests for assistance from boaters during the holiday weekend, with a big spike likely to occur each evening — timed with conclusion of waterfront fireworks shows as boats pull anchor en masse and head home.
While this number is down from previous years due to economic conditions, it still means a lot of boaters will need jump starts, tows home or being pulled of shallow grounds.
“For many, this will be the only time of year they operate their boat in the dark,” said BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water President Chris Edmonston. “As you’re about to pull the hook to leave after fireworks show ends, boaters should understand that the risk of having an accident significantly increases after the sun goes down.”
Boating at night requires a heightened awareness of the unique hazards a boat may encounter. Obstructions from something as simple as a buoy or even a floating log, to unlighted piers or sandbars, are much more difficult to see. Always post an extra crewmate or guest as a secondary lookout.
Vessel navigation lights are designed to not only help others understand a boat’s direction of travel or how fast it is going, but also to help determine what type of vessel it is and what activity it is doing, such as towing a barge. However, it may take a while to get a clear picture of these factors, so be especially vigilant in your approach until you are certain of their intentions. This is why it’s so important to ensure your own navigation lights are in proper working order as well.
“The best things you can do to ensure a safe cruise at night are to ensure you have a good lookout, operate at a speed that allows you to react appropriately, have your life jacket on or readily available, and leave the alcohol ashore — it is a leading contributor to accidents after dark,” added Edmonston.