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Coast Guard Auxiliary Reminds Boaters: "Water Toys" Are Not Toys At All

SACRAMENTO – Concerned about recent deaths and injuries reported in New York and California, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary wants to remind boaters that so called "water toys" – Personal Watercraft (PWCs), tube toys, wakeboards and water-skis – are not toys at all, and failure to exercise proper safety precautions while using them can result in severe injury or even death.

The Auxiliary cites as an example a Brooklyn teen who, while operating his PWC, collided with another PWC near the Belt parkway earlier this month. The teen was not wearing a life jacket while operating the PWC as was required under New York law (most states have similar requirements for PWC operators), and is presumed to have drowned. The collision resulted from the boys playing a dangerous game of "chicken", where the PWCs attempted to charge at each other and spray the other craft with the wake of their vessel.

The Auxiliary also cited as an example a recent accident in the Sacramento Delta region, which resulted in severe injuries. In this case, a vessel was pulling children on a tube behind a ski boat at a high rate of speed in a narrow slough. When another vessel approached the ski boat from the opposite direction, the operator of the ski boat made a sharp turn, and the occupants of the tube were thrown up onto the rocks, resulting in severe contusions and broken bones.

In an effort to promote safety on Personal Watercraft (PWCs) and while using water toys, the Coast Guard Auxiliary offers the following tips:

  • Be prepared and know before you go – Water safety is dependent on a knowledge of safe boating practices, coupled with common sense. Take a boating safety course, so you'll learn how to be safe, learn the rules of the road, etc. etc. etc. Become intimately familiar with how your PWC operates, and make sure it is in good operating condition before setting out for a day of fun in the sun. Make sure your kill switch works, so that when you fall off, the craft stops or circles so you can re-board.
  • Avoid spraying other vessels and deadly games of "Chicken" - Many PWCs don't have steerage unless they have their throttle engaged. Many PWC operators charge at another vessel, then let off the throttle and attempt to turn. Since they don't have much steering capability at idle speed, they keep going in the same direction before they released the throttle, often resulting in collisions. It is also illegal in many states for PWCs to spray the occupants of other vessels.
  • Always wear your life jacket – Most states require that PWC operators, as well as water skiers, and those riding on water toys, must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. It is important that these jackets not only fit properly, but they should be impact rated for the maximum speed of the vessel. This impact rating doesn't mean that the PFD will offer protection for impact at such speeds; rather it means that the buoyancy capabilities will still be intact after a collision at such speeds.
  • Maintain a safe speed, proper lookout, and avoid jumping the wakes of other boats – A favorite tactic of PWCs is to jump the wakes of other vessels. This often results in many "close calls," and often-deadly collisions between vessels and PWCs. Stay at least 100 feet away from other vessels that are underway, and make sure you keep a sharp lookout for other boats. PWCs are like the motorcycles of the waterways, in that they are often more difficult to see until it's too late. Lastly, when pulling skiers and water toys, most states require that the towing vessel (including a PWC) have an observer.
  • Know the limitations of your PWC, as well as your own – Make sure you know the operating capabilities of your PWC – know how much fuel it consumes, and how to right the PWC in the event it capsizes. Also, be aware of your own fatigue - riding a PWC, or for that matter - riding a tube, wakeboard, or water-ski, can be fatiguing. If you have difficulties pulling yourself aboard after falling off, its time to head for shore and rest up.
  • Never operate PWCs or pull water-skiers, or other water toys at night – In most states, PWCs are only allowed to operate from sunrise to sunset. The same rules apply to towing skiers, wake-boarders, and other water toys. The reason – visibility - other vessels are far less likely to see your tow or small PWC. Moreover, most PWCs don't have the running lights required under the navigation rules (and in most states are still illegal to operate at night, even if so equipped).

By following these simple rules and using common sense, PWC operators and water toy enthusiasts should be able to enjoy a great day on the water, and return home safe and sound.

For over 60 years, tens-of-thousands of men and women of the Coast Guard Auxiliary have spent millions of volunteer hours helping the Coast Guard carry out its missions. For more information on America's Volunteer Lifesavers, visit http://www.cgaux.org/

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