Boaters warned: put safety first
Mandatory safety equipment for boaters
Safety equipment requirements for a 20 to 30-foot boat going offshore:
• One life jacket per person, two oars or paddles, a bailer or manual bilge pump
• An anchor, three feet of chain and 200 feet of rope
• A horn, a flash light, a lifebuoy and 50 feet of rope
• Three red flares, three red rockets, three orange smokes and one dye marker
• A mirror and a fire extinguisher.
At least eight people could have died in incidents at sea last year if rescue missions had not been mounted, it has been revealed.
The rescues were among 405 “incidents of concern” logged by the Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre and were highlighted to warn sailors to put safety first in the summer boating season.
A spokesman for Marops said: “It is important to remember that boat users need to be familiar with the operation of the boat and how to handle it safely.
“It is important to understand the ‘rules of the road’, safety equipment, the navigation markers, and to know your limits with regards to going offshore, the limits of the boat and your own capabilities.”
Major incidents included a sinking sailing yacht whose crew had to abandon ship 500 miles north-east of Bermuda last December and a disabled fishing boat with two on board six miles offshore in September.
Others included a man who fell overboard during the Round the Island Seagull Race in June, and another man overboard a mile offshore in August.
The figures covered incidents logged by the centre, but did not include those dealt with by the Marine Police, the Royal Bermuda Regiment’s Boat Troop or the Department of Parks lifeguard service.
More than 7,000 people were assisted in marine incidents in 2018, which included about 2,500 people who were on board the P&O cruise ship Arcadia when it broke its moorings in high winds in Dockyard in December.
A total of 76 marine incidents were caused by disabled vessels, which Marops said were “our bread and butter”.
There were also three collisions and 18 groundings.
Forty medical incidents were recorded, but the majority were caused by pre-existing medical conditions.
Marops recorded 217 incidents inside Bermuda’s reef line, 70 outside the reef line and 174 more beyond the 12-mile limit.
The number of marine incidents increased from 353 to 405, almost 18 per cent, between 2017 and 2018.
The 2017 figures were said to have been much lower because of a higher emergency-response readiness as a result of the America’s Cup races that year.
Marops said the number of marine incidents had been in decline since a high point of almost 600 in 2009.
The spokesman added it was important that sailors checked that their boats were serviced before they are put in the water.
He said: “Ensure that everything is in good working order: the engine, the battery, bilge pumps, check there is sufficient fuel.
“Check your moorings; a lot of boats break free, run aground ... some of it is lack of experience.”
The spokesman added: “There is mandatory safety equipment when vessels go inshore and offshore.”
He told sailors: “Make use of marine VHF communications. When you go offshore, a lot of people forget that it is a requirement to carry a VHF radio. It enables you to monitor VHF channel 16, the distress and calling channel.
“Having a VHF on board makes it easier for you to be able to call in an emergency.
“It also helps if you have it turned on at all times when you are on the water, so that you can form part of the marine community and can offer assistance to other vessels if they are in peril or need help.
“We also encourage people to call us and file float plans if they are going offshore. It is simple, but it gives you an added layer of safety.”
The spokesman added: “You can drive a recreational boat without a licence in Bermuda.
“In many jurisdictions there is compulsory licensing, but that is not the case in Bermuda.
“There is no doubt that if there is mandatory boating education and licensing, it will make people more aware and less of a liability.”
Waypoint Marine Consulting will host a water safety session today at the Bermuda Sailors’ Home on Richmond Road, Hamilton, from 9am to 11am.
The Bermuda Water Safety Council and the Marine Police will hold safety demonstrations at Harbour Nights on Wednesday from 6pm to 9am.
The police and the Department of Parks said they would release their marine incident figures in due course.
The RBR was not immediately able to provide figures.
The Bermuda Water Safety Council did not respond to a request for comment.