With this in mind, Capt. Jack Moran of Sea Tow Cape May (New Jersey) and the Sea Tow Foundation offer the following tips to help you stay safe:
- Update your charts. With autumn’s shorter days, anglers often wind up running home after dark, which makes even familiar landmarks hard to spot. Make sure your charts – electronic and paper – are up to date so you can use them to navigate instead of visual aids. Download the Sea Tow App for iPhone and Android devices (www.seatow.com/app) to help you easily pinpoint your boat’s lat/long position.
- Check batteries and bilge pumps. Autumn storms can mean boats take on more water, even at the dock. Batteries can run down if the bilge pumps constantly are pumping out accumulated rainwater, which means a boat could sink in its slip. Before every outing, manually turn the bilge pump(s) on at the dash, then check the auto-float switch to make sure the pump will run when a rising water level triggers it.
- Be visible at night. Check that your boat’s navigation lights work and your emergency flares are not past their expiration date. Bring a couple of waterproof flashlights onboard to help you unload passengers and gear at the dock or boat ramp after dark.
- Wear a life jacket. In the fall, boaters who accidentally fall overboard run an increased risk of hypothermia. While children under 13 must wear a life jacket when the boat is underway by law, it’s a good idea for adults to wear them, too. Buy life jackets with lights attached so rescuers can find you in the water at night. Make sure they fit over bulky “fall layers” – jackets, sweatshirts, etc.
- Make sure your VHF is working. During the fall, waterways and fishing grounds may be a little less crowded, so if you run into a problem, you might not see another boater for help. Don’t rely on a cellphone as there may be spots where it has no signal. Use Sea Tow’s free Automated Radio Check system – to find the system’s VHF channel for your boating area, visit www.seatow.com/boating-safety/automated-radio-checks.
- Gas up before you go. Some fuel docks close earlier in the day during the fall season or don’t open at all. Don’t assume you always will be able to fill up for the return trip home.
- Bring extra gear. Always have a dry bag with a change of clothes on board, in case someone gets wet. Staying dry is an essential part of survival on cold water.
- Don’t anchor from the stern. Always set your anchor from the bow. Boaters who anchor from the back of the boat risk swamping the vessel if a big wave washes over the transom.
- Keep a “weather eye”. Autumn cold fronts and storms can approach swiftly. Use the free Sea Tow App for smartphones to get up-to-date weather forecasts, as well as information about tides and navigation. The app also lets you instantly contact Sea Tow for help. For more information, visit www.seatow.com/app.