Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's Never a 3 Hour Tour! Boating Emergencies

If your agency has a lake, a reservoir, or a river then chances are you will have to handle a boating incident at some point in your career. The economy is forcing the public to cut back on long distance trips. In place of fancy vacations, people are making use of local resources.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard statistics* for year 2010, there were 4,604 accidents. Of those boating accidents, 672 included fatalities and 3,153 had non-fatal injuries. The property damage tag was $35.5 million dollars. Of the fatalities, almost three-fourths of the victims drowned and 88% of those WEREN’T WEARING A LIFE JACKET (emphasis mine). As with DUI’s, alcohol use was the leading factor in fatal boating accidents.

What type of incidents can a dispatcher expect from a recreational water zone? The same general calls as on the land. For those who have large bodies of water (i.e. Lake Mead or the Colorado River) in a busy summer day, calls can range from boater assisters, possible drowning, boat accidents, missing divers, to fishing violations. Operating Under the Influence has many of the same consequences as does Driving Under the Influence in many states (check with your Legislators to see how your State handles this problem). In Nevada, you can be arrested and prosecuted for operating a boat under the influence.

When a call comes in to a dispatch center for a boating-related incident, what questions should the dispatcher ask?

Unlike a traditional call involving a fire, crime, or medical call on a city street or within a county jurisdiction; incidents on the water require a little more description. Take, for instance, a call for a boat taking on water at Lake Mead. For those who have never been to Lake Mead (in Nevada), it is a large lake. As with any call for help, a callback number and RP name; a description of the involved boat(s) including color(s), registration number, size, and number of people on board; description of the area the boat is near including any landmarks, cove names, and buoys. Don’t forget to ask about injuries and direction any involved boats were last seen heading, if no longer on the scene and how long ago the vessel(s) left.

For victims lost overboard, or divers overdue from below, a good physical description is needed. A head-to-toe works best:  race (use what the person appears to be upon viewing Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, or Other (describe - Native American?), Male or Female, age, height (can use tall, medium, short), weight (describe: thin, heavy, petite, etc.), hair (color and style), eyes (color), facial hair, and scars, marks, or tattoos, clothing: again, going from head-to-toe with color (or light or dark) hat, shirt, shorts/pants/skirt, bathing suit, and shoes. Did person have on a life jacket (Personal Flotation Device)? If he or she is a diver, scuba or skin diver? Did they dump their weight belt?

To get my point across, click on each of the three links at the end of this post. The first link is a partial recording. It is a lengthy, hence why I have only posted the first half, of two duck hunters whose boat capsized. One of the hunters called 9-1-1 and was able to stay with the 9-1-1 dispatcher until help did arrive (that is on the second half of the recording). The second is of two fisherman who were in the water for over an hour, taking to the 9-1-1 dispatcher until help arrived. The third deals with a search for a child who fell overboard and drowned.

 Two happy outcomes and one tragic.

Before you head outon a boating excursion, make sure you check over your watercraft. Listed below is a list of safety checks you can do at home. In addition, click on the link to the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Boating page to read about their “Dos and Don’t’s”.  I’ve also included the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety site for more information.

Here are ten safety checks you can do before launching a boat for the first time each season:

1.       Check your personal floatation devices (PFDs) – are they in good condition, with no rips or tears? Do you have one for each passenger? Does each PSD fit the person who will use it?
2.       Check the fire extinguisher – is it charged?
3.       Make sure your registration is current and the decal is on the vessel
4.       Is the boats batteries charged?
5.       Is the electrical system working?
6.       How is the engine? Turn it on to test it. Don’t forget to check the Outboard ears.
7.       Check the hull – any signs of cracks or damages? Do you have a plug?
8.       Is the trailer in good condition? Do the tires need air? Do you have a spare tire? How is the winch – does it work? Grease the axel bearings.
9.       Maintain the ski and tow equipment. Do you have a ski or dive flag?
10.   Replace any gas left in tank from previous year. Are the fuel lines intact?

 Here are three examples of boating trips gone horribly wrong:  ( duck hunters capsized boat in Minnesota) (Great Salt Lake boat capsized w/2 on board) (child drowning Provo UT – body found 40 min later one mile away)

*Information taken from National Association State Boating Law Administrators

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