By Lee McClellan
A half-naked boater shivering in plastic serves as a reminder to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Sgt. John Anderson why it pays to be prepared while on the water.
Problems started early for this particular Lake Cumberland boater, who started his trip clothed, but had to jump-start his boat’s motor at the marina.
"He went fishing assuming everything would be fine," explained Anderson, boating education coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ law enforcement division. "But, his starting battery was bad to begin with. Then he fished for a few hours."
Alone, the unlucky angler tried to start his big motor. The starting battery was too weak to fire the motor, however. The angler ran his trolling motor battery down while trying to get across the lake in the wind.
"I got to him at 3 a.m. He was cold and the temperature was below 60 degrees," Anderson said. "Plus, he had gotten soaked to the bone and had taken all his clothes off, except for a yellow rain jacket. He had wrapped plastic around his waist in an effort to keep warm. So I had to take a half-naked guy wrapped in plastic back to the dock at 3 a.m."
Boaters only need to carry a few required safety items on board. For example, all boats must have a readily accessible personal floatation device, commonly called a lifejacket, for every passenger on board. All boats with gas and fuel on board must have a working fire extinguisher. All boats 16 feet or longer must also carry a sound producing device - such as a boat horn or loud whistle - and a throwable personal flotation device.
But boaters should also include some common-sense items in their storage holds to ensure they get back to the marina, campsite or boat ramp safely. Remember the naked boater. "If you assume everything will go perfectly on the water," Anderson cautioned, "then you are asking for trouble."
Jumper cables are an overlooked item that can stave off disaster. It is easy to exhaust the charge in a starting battery when the big motor is acting cantankerous. Jumper cables allow you to start the main motor off your trolling motor battery or another boater’s battery. The man Anderson saved would have greatly benefitted from a set of jumper cables in his boat.
A flashlight and extra batteries should be aboard every boat. "I once found some broken-down boaters on Cave Run Lake because they had a BIC lighter," Anderson related. "They didn’t have a flashlight."
Anderson would have found the boaters within minutes if they’d had a flashlight to shine on his boat. Instead, he searched 3-4 hours before spotting a tiny glimmer of a flame from a lighter held aloft by the missing boaters. "If they didn’t have that BIC lighter, I would’ve never found those people in the dark," Anderson said. "That’s why I recommend boaters carry some safety flares as well."
Boaters should also carry a towrope and an anchor. "Less than 50 percent of small boats have an anchor on board," Anderson said. "If your boat is disabled and drifting, you can get run over at night."
Anyone who’s boated long enough knows the importance of a tow rope. You’ll eventually need it. You can’t rely on a Good Samaritan to have one.
"You need several ropes on board for towing, to secure things, to secure bumpers to the side of the boat and to tie-off with," Anderson. "I’ve seen boats with just a piece of parachute cord tied on the front of the boat."
It’s a good idea to run through a checklist of essential items before leaving for the lake. Make sure you have enough lifejackets on board. They must also fit the intended occupants, such as a large person or a child. An adult size lifejacket won’t help a small child in an emergency.
Check the condition of the fire extinguisher and make sure the running and trailer lights work. Always bring extra water, food and a light jacket. A first aid kit for treating burns, cuts and insect bites is essential equipment.
"It is easy to assume those things are on board or in good working order until you get out on the water and find out they aren’t," Anderson said. "You must check that equipment every single time. The captain is responsible for the equipment on board. If you are running the boat, you are the captain."
Don’t overlook these items when you go boating this summer. You don’t want to be escorted back to the marina by a conservation officer in the wee hours of the morning, soaking wet, half-naked and wrapped in plastic.