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Avoiding Costly Boating Mistakes

It's critical to learn from the mistakes of other boaters.
Boating Safety

Don't Get Caught

Failed to Pass
Intracoastal Waterway, South Carolina

“It’s a fast boat, so I focus more on what’s coming at me than what’s behind.”

Problem: Bob’s hardtop express cruiser is stuck behind a sailboat creeping along under power at 3 mph in a narrow channel. When oncoming traffic finally allows, he swings out to port to pass. But, to Bob’s surprise, he’s immediately rammed by another boat trying to pass both him and the sailboat. Bob later admitted that, although he checked, he never saw the other boat coming.

Prevention: Boats that are about to pass are required to signal by radio or horn. Bob should have signaled the sailboat, and it should have responded so everyone would know what was about to happen. The same goes for the boat that hit Bob, which also remained silent. The bigger issue, however, was Bob’s lack of visibility to his port quarter. When shopping for a boat, it is up to you to look for these blind spots.

In bowriders or deck boats, ask people in the showroom to sit in the forward cockpit to determine whether you’ll be able to see ahead. Ski boats offer excellent wide-angle rearview mirrors. Install one either on the windshield frame or the helm. Sit in the driver’s seat with your head up and good posture to check if the windshield frame cuts off your view. Turn around in the seat as if looking back and to the sides. Like Bob, you’ll be doing this quickly while under way, so anything — no matter how small — can block your view. Put on polarized sunglasses to see if the windshield’s glass shows a blotchy pattern that is hard to see through. Look for flip-up bolster helm seats that let you sit higher or stand securely for a better view. Buy the windshield wiper option. Make sure that the blade fully retracts and that the motor is mounted out of your field of vision. The top of the helm should be a dark, dull, textured surface to reduce glare. If not, see if it can be covered with a snap-on section of dark canvas.

Tanks for the Warning
Mobile Bay, Mississippi

“I never knew there was a problem; you can’t fix what you don’t know is wrong.”

Problem: Jeff is obsessive when it comes to caring for his six-year-old cruiser. So he was surprised when the surveyor said that the fire that destroyed his boat was caused by a poorly maintained aluminum fuel tank. There was a pinhole leak that let gas gather in a section of the bilge where the limber holes were clogged. Jeff said it was the one place on the boat he couldn’t reach.

Prevention: Not long ago the Coast Guard issued a warning about the alarming failure of aluminum fuel tanks in recreational boats. Citing a long-term Underwriters Laboratories study, the Coast Guard pointed out that 92 percent of the failures were a result of corrosion. As the study reveals, part of the problem is that aluminum fuel tanks are often considered “maintenance-free.” So, with limited available space, they are often pushed into the least accessible corners, making regular inspection almost impossible.

Although corrosion from sloshing bilge water is the most common culprit, the study found several instances of abrasion. One boat’s fuel tank was mounted on top of a rubber pad, but the staples that held the pad in place weren’t recessed and eventually wore into the tank. In another case, brass fittings were secured directly into the aluminum, promoting galvanic corrosion.

Almost every aluminum tank examined had some form of corrosion, which can be seen as a patch of fine white powder. In every case the common factor was that the tank hadn’t been installed so that it could be inspected or repaired.

Ask your builder or dealer where the inspection ports are, and determine whether you can see susceptible connections, joints, welds, supports and restraints. Examine the bilge to see whether water will flow freely past the tank and not be trapped under or around it. Also, consider thickness. The study found that most failures occurred in tanks constructed of 0.090-inch or thinner aluminum. An alternative to aluminum is polyethylene; just make sure the tank is marked to show that it meets Coast Guard or ABYC standards.

Top 10 Ways We Get Into Trouble

1. Operator inattention - 749 accidents
2. Operator inexperience - 439 accidents
3. Excessive speed - 427 accidents
4. Improper lookout - 335 accidents
5. Alcohol - 308 accidents
6. Machinery failure - 282 accidents
7. Weather - 260 accidents
8. Hazardous waters - 242 accidents
9. Force of wave or wake - 229 accidents
10. Not knowing rules of the road - 110 accidents

* * * * *

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

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