As National Safe Boating week — May 18 -24 — gets underway, Homosassa Flotilla 15-4 would like to remind boaters of the dangers of absorbing too much sun while boating on our area’s beautiful waters.
I guess I do not have to tell anyone who has been outside recently that it is mighty warm out there. Whether you are working in the yard, just out for a walk, relaxing on the beach or out on the water in your boat, you know that it is hot. As the season progresses, so too will the hot temperatures.
Exposure to the sun while on the water can be dangerous. The effects of the sun and heat combined with the marine environment require special precautionary measures.
Many boaters are not familiar with the “Marine Environmental Fatigue Syndrome.” This condition can affect both your judgment and coordination and is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun, wind, motion, noise and occasional breathing of exhaust fumes.
These conditions are amplified during Florida’s hot summer months because of the heat and humidity. While the use of alcohol is never recommended for operators of any vessel, it is especially dangerous under these conditions. The effects of this syndrome produce lack of coordination, poor judgment and just plain fatigue. The use of alcohol can only add to an already serious and dangerous situation.
I am sure that most of you have seen the damage the hot sun can do to your boat or vehicle’s paint. With that in mind, just imagine what it can do to your unprotected skin and to your eyes as well. Sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) should be worn. Studies have shown that these products may lose their effectiveness both in their container and on your skin, so they need to be purchased at least annually and stored aboard in a cooler. Since heat tends to break down their preservatives, the lotion should be reapplied often throughout the day.
Ultraviolet type A rays (UVA) not only cause sunburn, they cause skin cancer, as I can personally attest to. They can also be responsible for the development of skin wrinkles and cause damage to the eyes.
Boaters should protect their eyes with a good pair of UV-rated sunglasses. Wearing lightweight long clothing not only protects boaters from the sun, but also helps the body maintain a proper temperature. Bathing suits may be the traditional clothing worn for a summer boating outing, but long, lightweight clothing holds perspiration and helps cool the body.
Wearing a wide-brim hat can shade you as well. In fact, several years ago the U.S. Coast Guard, because of the extreme heat of the sun over our local waters, authorized the adoption of the “Tilley” hat for use by members of their Coast Guard Auxiliary boat crews. These offer extra protection from the elements for the crew while conducting safety patrols and other outdoor activities such as conducting free vessel safety checks for boaters.
So what do we do if someone on board should succumb to the heat? Obviously, it is important to detect the problem as early as possible before heat prostration or heat stroke occurs. At the first sign of a heat-related problem, give the person lots of water or a sports electrolytic-replacing drink. Cool them down. Bathe them with wet cloths and fan them.
Drinks with alcohol and sugar may taste good, but actually contribute to the dehydration. Remember, too, that older folks and children lose body fluids faster.
Another important reminder is to be sure everyone who will be on board, bring with them any prescription medicine they are required to take. Another thing, you may plan to be on the water for only a short time. But if your engine should fail, you could be out there for a very long time. Be sure that you have emergency rations with plenty of fresh water for you and your passengers on board.
Hopefully, you have also left a “Float Plan” behind with someone before setting out on your boating activity. This is an easy thing for a wise skipper to do. Just jot down a description of your vessel including the color, number and name of your vessel, where you intend to go, the route you plan to follow, how long you expect to be there and when you plan to be back, as well as what time folks should begin to worry and notify authorities. Then, just leave it with someone that you can depend upon to call the U.S. Coast Guard if you fail to return by the designated time.
The USCG station for this area located in Yankeetown and can be reached at 352-447-6900.
Remember to include in your Float Plan a description of your tow vehicle and where you plan to launch from. Searchers will check to see if your vehicle is still there. If it is not, then you are probably safe and on your way home or perhaps have stopped off somewhere on the way home. It is a good practice to let the folks at home know that you are safely back on shore.
I know that some of this sounds like a lot of extra work and bother, but I can assure you that in the event of an emergency, you will be glad that you put forth this extra effort, and so will your loved ones.
Homosassa Flotilla 15-4 hopes that you have a safe and enjoyable time on the water.
Wilbur B. Scott is with the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Homosassa Flotilla 15-4.