Boating safety is a vitally important topic

June 14, 2019

I know we all hear about boating safety until the message becomes boring. I ask you to please open up your ears once more and take in the message again because we all need to think about boating safety every time we go out on the water.

First and foremost, always wear your personal floatation device (PFD). This is the most important safety rule there is. When a boating accident occurs, it happens in a nanosecond. One second you are happy, riding along without a care in the world, and the next second you are in the water, possibly injured or unconscious. There is no time to find your PFD, get it out of the cute little bag under the seat and put it on. You need to have it on all the time.

While adults can choose to wear or nor wear their PFDs, children have to depend on adults for their safety. I receive the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control police report every week, and almost every week there is a report of at least one, and often more than one, instance of adults being cited for not having a PFD on a child under 12 years of age.

I was a member of the Delaware Wildlife Council when two young children were lost due to a boating accident at Indian River Inlet. The little boy was never found, and the idea that children should always wear a PFD was born from that incident. Believe it or not, it took two years to get that law through the Delaware Legislature, but it finally passed and has been on the books for many years.

PFDs come in various styles, and some are light and very comfortable. I suggest going to a boating supply store and trying on a few different models to find the ones best suited to you and your family members.

I use a Stearns automatic-inflating PFD. West Marine and other boating stores sell similar models for less than $100. I wear mine all the time on the water and often forget I have it on when I get back to the dock.

There are vest-type PFDs that sell for less than $50. Like the inflatables, they must be worn to be counted as PFDs toward the Coast Guard’s regulations. These are also comfortable and will keep you above water in the event of an accident.

One of the biggest problems I see on the water is boat captains who pay little or no attention to their surroundings. Some stay laser focused straight ahead while others are in conversations with everyone on the boat and have no idea what’s going on around them. Both are accidents looking for a place to happen.

I have no illusions that anything I write or say will get to these captains. What I hope is those who do read this will become defensive captains as we have all learned to be defensive drivers, looking out for those who play with cellphones, try to eat a seven-course dinner or otherwise take their eyes away from the road.

When you approach another boat, look at what the captain is doing. Try to make eye contact with him or her. If that fails, be ready for anything. If you are overtaking another boat, once again be aware of what the captain is doing. Does he turn around frequently to see if anyone is behind him? Does he have a lookout on board to keep track of other boats in the area? Once again, if the answer is no, be prepared for anything.

The area in Rehoboth Bay just outside Massey’s Ditch where hundreds of boaters gather on summer weekends is a very dangerous place. The navigation channel is narrow, and there are all types of boats trying to come through. Some are on their way to or from someplace else, while others are looking for a spot to park and join the party. The only way to get by is to slow down and keep a very close watch on every boat around you.

The Broadkill River also has a good crowd on the weekends. Some are fishing, some are joy riding and quite a few are on jet skis. Fishermen often use jon boats in the river, and these can be sunk quite easily by boat wakes. It is just plain courteous to slow your boat down when approaching another boat that is drifting. When you do slow down, please let the boat settle on the level, not with the stern buried in the water creating a bigger wake than it did on plane.

As the summer goes along, more and more people will be on the water. Keep a good lookout and always wear your PFD.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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