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By Damon Poeter
Longer days. More sunshine. Vacation. Now that it’s summer and school is out, beaches and swimming pools beckon. Or perhaps you prefer reeling in fish, shooting the rapids in a kayak or slicing through waves and wake on a jet ski. However you enjoy the hot summer months, keep these water safety tips in mind.
Let's start with this: As COVID-19 casts a shadow on most aspects of everyday life, the Centers for Disease Control has said there's no evidence the virus can spread via the water, especially in properly maintained pools or hot tubs. But whether it's a manmade water setting, river, lake or seashore, the CDC advises limiting close contact with others.
Happy hour can easily turn into many hours when you’re relaxing on the water, enjoying the company of others or just yourself, and it can be easy to not realize that you—or a friend—might be illegally driving a boat while under the influence. Drinking can give non-boaters false bravado as well, becoming a factor in everything from folks hurting themselves due to jumping from great heights into the water to getting burnt to a crisp because they forgot to wear sunblock.
Before you load up your family’s fishing rods, surfboards or kayaks and head to the water, brush up on some basics of water safety. If you have kids, make sure they know how to stay safe as well, whether they’re on a boat, swimming or engaging in sports activities on the water.
You should also check your homeowners insurance policy to see if it provides coverage for recreational boat owners, says John Dixon, a product management director at USAA.
“Most homeowners policies do provide some limited coverage for recreational boat owners. This may include a limited amount of coverage for specific types of physical loss to boats such as fire or lightning, usually for under $2,000,” he says.
“It may also include liability coverage if an insured party is found liable due to covered events associated with boats owned, rented or borrowed, depending on the size and use of the boat. While owners of less-expensive, non-motorized watercraft-like canoes, paddle boards and row boats may have coverage via their homeowners policy, it is highly recommended for recreational boat owners to contact their insurance company to ensure they have adequate coverage if something should happen related to their watercraft.”
Take a boating safety course. The U.S. Coast Guard has a list of organizations offering boating education, boating safety courses and certifications for boaters of all ages. Have your children take a course before letting them drive the boat. Put together a pre-launch checklist and instruct passengers about the safety rules on your boat before setting out.
Get licensed and certified. Find out the boating license and certification requirements in your state at Boat-ed.com. Check in every year to make sure your license and certifications are up to date.
Follow boating laws and regulations. The Coast Guard has a roundup of links to federal boating laws and regulations, Coast Guard boating directives, state-by-state boating laws, rules of navigation and more, covering everything from life jacket requirements and penalties for driving a boat under the influence of alcohol.
Maintain your boat. A well-maintained boat is a safe boat. In the off season, keep your boat covered for protection while in storage, change out the fluids and filters, detach the battery, drain water from the engine and then run it for about 10 minutes after filling the tank with fuel and stabilizer. Otherwise the battery could get corroded and engine parts could rust—do you want to pay for new ones every year?
Watch the weather. In the summer, treacherous squalls can spring up quickly over many waterways where recreational boaters, boarders and sport fishing boats set out very early under sunny skies. Keep an eye and ear out especially for electrical storms, and get off the water quickly when conditions start getting dangerous.
Sign the kids up for swimming class. Get your kids swimming at a young age with swimming classes, usually available for a fee at a private swim school or free at some recreation centers and youth camps. Look for instructors who offer safety lessons as well as teaching kids how to swim.
Watch the watchers. When you take the kids to the pool or beach, keep an eye on the lifeguards to make sure they’re working to the best of their ability to keep everyone safe. If not, you might want to spend the day with an eye on your children rather than reading, napping or getting absorbed in conversation.
Know what you can handle. Make a sober assessment of your own swimming ability before going out into rough surf and strong currents. Try not to give in to pressure from others to take on challenges you’re not ready to handle. You might feel strong, but rough surf can outmatch even the best swimmer.
Recognize the signs of drowning. Contrary to popular belief, swimmers in jeopardy don’t usually thrash around and draw attention to themselves, so learn to recognize the actual signs of a person in distress to better protect your kids and other fellow swimmers.
Don’t ski, board or tube with inexperienced drivers. Find out how experienced your boat driver is before you let them pull you or your kids on skis, a board or a tube. If your driver is a friend or family member you should have a good idea about their competency. But if you’re hiring a driver, ask around for recommendations from other skiers and boarders. Don’t be shy about asking a driver how long they’ve been pulling people and what their safety guidelines are. Also make sure that the boat driver and anyone getting pulled are on the same page with hand signals used to communicate out on the water.
Challenge yourself with experienced companions. A huge part of the thrill of surfing, skiing, boarding, paddling, kayaking and canoeing is getting better by challenging yourself in more high-stakes conditions. But before taking on bigger surf or rougher rapids by yourself, do a session or run with a more seasoned athlete by your side.
Wear proper safety equipment. Life vests and helmets are a must for kayaking, canoeing, water skiing and jet skiing. Treat your skin with the same care as you do your head and lungs – sunblock is your friend any time you’re out on the water.
Assess rapids on the spot and not just by the guidebook. Classifying whitewater rapids isn’t an exact science and conditions can change, so even if the book says Class III, the stretch of river you’re embarking upon might be even trickier to kayak or canoe. Confer with buddies and guides before taking on rapids that look like they may be running bigger than advertised.
John Dixon is a product management director at USAA with more than 30 years of insurance experience, including underwriting, marketing, supervision and product management. He has been at USAA for 20 years and manages a portfolio of insurance including aviation, boats, motorcycles, motor homes and collectible vehicles.
The USAA Insurance Agency (the “Agency”) contracts with insurance companies that are not affiliated with USAA to offer products and services (“third-party insurance products”) on their behalf. Third-party insurance products are not underwritten by USAA or its affiliates. The Agency receives a commission on the sale or renewal of third-party insurance products and may receive other performance-based compensation from them. Product availability may vary in some locations. Applications for insurance are subject to underwriting by the insurance carrier. Any product or coverage descriptions are brief. All coverages are subject to the terms and conditions of your policy. Read your policy for details. USAA Insurance Agency means USAA Insurance Agency, Inc., or USAA of Texas Insurance Agency (collectively the “Agency”). CA Lic #0D78305, TX Lic. #7096. 9800 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio, TX 78288.
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