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Boating Safety

Although boating does not account for many mishaps in the Air Force, the potential for injury or death remains a concern.

Boats are a fun resource for both transportation and recreation but they can be dangerous if basic safety guidelines are not followed.
  • Every boat outing should start with a basic assessment of the boat's condition, especially checking for loose objects or exposed, sharp edges. This is especially important because footing can be unsteady while on the boat in the water, so checking the boat before leaving shore will help prevent potential injury. Swim in Safe Areas. A lifeguard can make the difference between life and death
  • It is important to make sure the boat is not overloaded so check for weight and passenger capacity
  • Make sure there is a life jacket for every passenger on the boat and extras to use in case of an emergency
  • Check weather reports before going out for the day. High winds or storms can roll in quickly and catch you off guard
  • Be sure to have a gas fuel reserve in case of emergency or if you get lost. Fueling stations and marinas are not always available
  • Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan on returning to shore
  • Be familiar with the anchoring procedures for the boat
  • When the vessel has reached a complete stop, anchors should be lowered, not thrown
CASE STUDY: A 24 year old SSgt was out with two friends enjoying an afternoon of boating. While the boat was anchored, the SSgt decided to dive head first into the water. He struck his head on the bottom and fractured his neck resulting in permanent paralysis. The SSgt's blood alcohol content was 0.17.

Bottom line:
  • Take a boating course
  • Know your boat's load limit, and don't exceed it. A safe boat is a well-equipped boat. Always carry the necessary safety gear and know how to use it
  • Knowing how to swim just makes good sense if you spend time on the water
  • Keep lifejackets visible and accessible and never make someone feel uncomfortable if they choose to wear one
  • Remember, while a drink or two can relax you and make your day more enjoyable, it may also slow your reaction time, reduce your coordination and increase your susceptibility to hypothermia
  • If diving from a boat, know how deep the water is
Water Safety Learned the Hard Way

Lt Col Nate "A+12" Allerheiligen

Commander, 50th Airlift Squadron

On 1 Nov 2008, I was enjoying an unseasonably warm day at Heber Springs reservoir with my family and some dear friends. The water temp was still in the upper 70's, so it was a great day to be on the lake. We started the day with some boating on the pontoon boat, with our friends riding on their jet skis. After awhile, they invited me to take one for a spin. Not having a lot of experience on small powered watercraft, I took it easy at first, keeping my distance from other boats & remaining vigilant of those around me. Later on, I took my younger son on my lap for a spin while my older son, 11 at the time, was riding the other Jet Ski. He had ridden several times before and was conscientious and careful in how he rode. We were having a really nice time and enjoying the day and the fun together.
 
At one point, I came up behind my son and was getting too close to him, so I headed off in a wide sweeping left turn to get some distance from him while he headed off to the right. My young son was "helping" me steer and run the throttle. As I looked over my shoulder for the other rider, I couldn't see him, so I thought we were safe to keep turning. Spray got in my eyes for a moment as we rolled out of the turn and then I saw him.

Directly ahead of me, directly in my path, was my son on a collision course. We were maybe 50 yards apart and each doing 20 kts or more at each other. I barely had time to have any reaction, so I did my best to steer away without capsizing or stopping directly in his path. Unfortunately, he kept turning slightly left into my path and we collided. My boat went up and over the left front of his, flying 2-3 feet above the water, and stopped about 50-60 yards away.

I immediately turned around and thought for a moment that he was OK. He was sitting erect on his craft with his hands by his side. Then it happened. He turned to the right, almost as if on purpose, and fell into the water face first. That image will haunt me forever.

At that moment, instinct kicked in and I instantly jumped into the water and began a life-saver crawl to him. It seemed to take forever to reach him, the whole time his face was in the water. I instantly noticed the blood in the water as I turned him over. Praise God, he began to breath and did the "funky chicken"--a series of spasms common when a person who has blacked out comes back to conscientiousness. He had a huge wound above his left ear that was bleeding profusely. I didn't have time or opportunity to do any more triage, so I headed back to the boat. No one else was in sight around us and we were exactly in the middle of the lake with over ½ mile swim in any direction to reach shore.

Fortunately, he was wearing a vest style life-preserver and was floating without effort. I grabbed the back of his vest and began pulling him back to my craft where my other son was patiently and quietly waiting. My injured son was responsive to my voice and could move his arms--he even tried to help swim. With his help, I was able to get him back onto my craft, get the motor started, and the 3 of us raced back to shore.

When we reached shore, I helped him into a prone position on the concrete, secured his head and neck while applying direct pressure onto his head wound with my own shirt. By then, our friends had already called for an ambulance. The ambulance arrived quickly and took him to the local hospital, which was less than 10 minutes away.

He was evaluated in the local hospital and found to not have any significant head, neck, or back injuries. The cut on his scalp was more than they wanted to handle there and he had lost a lot of blood, so they med-evac'ed him to Arkansas Children's Hospital via helicopter. By the time we drove the 75 minutes to the hospital, he was lucid, responsive, and doing well. He received 11 staples to close the head wound and was released that night.

There are several lessons to be learned by this life-changing experience, but the paramount discovery is that life-preservers save lives! Without the jacket, he may have very-well sunk beyond my reach before I could get to him. There is no way that I could have pulled my son 75 yards through the water and onto that Jet Ski had he not been wearing a jacket. A big kid for his age, he was 5' 7" and 160 pounds at that time. Likewise, had I not had my jacket on, I likely would have drown from exhaustion trying to bring him back to safety.

I also learned the importance to carefully and conservatively following all the safety precautions in the owner's manual of the water craft. As vigilant as I was, the added distraction of having my younger son in my lap made the maneuvers we were doing dangerous and tragic.