Texting While Boating: A Dangerous Distraction

“Each year hundreds of lives are lost, thousands of people are injured, and millions of dollars of property damage occur because of preventable recreational boating accidents on U.S. waterways.”

That statement from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division probably doesn’t surprise you.

According to the USCG’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics report, alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. No surprise there, either. Most everyone is aware of the life-threatening risks posed by drinking and driving—whether on the road or on the water.

But did you know that a big portion of preventable boating accidents stems from distracted driving? In addition to alcohol use, the USCG report lists “operator inattention” as one of the top contributing factors in boating accidents.

Piloting a boat requires a lot of multi-tasking as it is. Add to that distractions like wind, glare and fatigue—and you can see how easy it can be to get preoccupied. And then there’s cell phone use, which throws in a whole new level of distraction for boaters.

Most people understand the dangers of texting while driving a car. Indeed, a growing number of states have strict laws against it. The USCG is also aware of the risks—and since 2015, it has prohibited the use of cell phones by its vessel operators.

Unfortunately, too many recreational boaters don’t consider the dangers of texting while boating. Texting (along with tweeting and/or taking photos and posting to social media sites like Instagram and Facebook) while boating creates exactly the type of operator inattention that leads to accidents.

Consider this statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission:

Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

That’s frightening! Think about how much can happen in 5 seconds on the waterways—where boats can approach from any direction and at varying speeds. Texting while boating is an accident waiting to happen. When waterways are crowded, the risks are even higher.

The Fourth of July is a big holiday for boaters. If you’re planning to hit the waterways, put down your cell phone, be safe…and have fun!

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