Boat Safety While Spearfishing
Boating has inherent risks. These risks complicate boat safety. When we add other activities to boating it compounds that risk. The best thing we can do to mitigate these risks is to be prepared. We become prepared through a combination of training and by having the right equipment available.
Boat Safety Basics – Equipment
There are some pieces of equipment that are simply required on boats in most countries. You can find more information on what is required on boats here. There are also pieces of equipment you should considered required every time you go out on a boat.
First Aid Kits
Boats have a never ending means of harming boaters. Injuries can range from minor cuts and scrapes, to life threatening issues. Make sure you have a first aid kit available available that meats your level of training and will meet your typical needs. Make sure to restock your first aid kit as well. Some items deteriorate over time or need to be replaced as they are used. The bandages in your first aid kit are only helpful if they are actually there.
These should be part of your first aid kit, but warrant special consideration. There are a number of injuries where a tourniquet can mean the difference between living and dying. You should defiantly have a real tourniquet available on your boat. Other forms of stopping blood loss are also beneficial to have on the boat. Here is some more information on tourniquets and how to use them.
Standard Safety Equipment
As previously mentioned, there are some required pieces of safety equipment for boating in the United States. At a minimum there needs to be a proper PFD (lifejacket) available for everyone on the boat. Additionally you need at least one (1) throwable PFD onboard as well. If your boat has a permanent fuel tank you are required to have a fire extinguisher. You need a visual signaling device (flairs, flag, etc.), and an auditory signaling device (whistle, horn, etc). Below is a simplified list:
- Wearable PFD (Type II)
- Throwable PFD (Type IV)
- Fire Extinguisher (B-I)
- Visual Signaling Device (Flairs or Lights)
- Auditory Signaling Device (Whistle, Horn, or Bell)
Radios are an underrated piece of equipment that become critical in an emergency. The reality of most major accidents is you will be corresponding with a government agency for assistance on your way in. The ability to communicate is critical. Just as important as having a radio is knowing how to use it. Be familiar with the channels you need to use and how to communicate properly. Have a plan and know the relevant information you need to give to the Coast Guard. An emergency binder with all the boat information is hugely helpful in an emergency situation.
EPIRBs and Other Equipment
EPIRBs and other emergency signaling communication devices are invaluable. An EPIRB is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. It sends a signal to the Coast Guard of your location and that you are in destress. Over the years these devices have become better. Many are activated automatically if they are submerged. If you spend time offshore you should have one of these attached to your boat and ensure it is serviced or replaced regularly. Ensure it is registered to ensure a more rapid response from the authorities.
There are other devices that provide similar functions. The Garmin In-Reach Mini is capable of sending messages to specific individuals as well as act a an EPIRB. You can even purchase a case that allows you to take the In-Reach Mini with you on dives, so it can stay on your person.
Boat Safety Basics – Training
Training is just as important as having the equipment available. Remember to become familiar with your equipment. In an emergency situation it should be second nature as a result of training you do with yourself.
First Aid and CPR Certifications
A simple first aid class goes a long way in becoming familiar with how to preserve a life. The addition of CPR is an invaluable skill that can help save a friends life. Some other beneficial skills and equipment to keep around would be supplying oxygen. This is particularly helpful with diving injuries or accidents to promote boat safety.
Familiarity with First Aid Kits
Beyond learning first aid and having a first aid kit handy, you need to be familiar with your personal first aid kit. Open it up and see what you have and where it is stored. In an emergency you want to be able to respond as quickly and effectively as possible. You can save valuable time by being familiar with what is available in your own kit.
One of the best things you can do is have a trauma plan. It is best if it is written, available, and known to everyone. Leave some room for different situations, but have a plan in place. Identify who is in charge, designate an alternate if that person is unavailable and so on. A great idea for plan development is to make a PACE Plan. Pace is an acronym for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. If you have plans in place for each of those you should be okay if there is a problem.
If you are going to be in remote locations you have additional considerations. If there is an issue you will have extended times you may need to provide care. That means additional supplies will be needed as well as additional training. There are a number of different certifications available that can assist with providing extended care in the event of a major injury. Make sure you have a plan in place well before you go on extended range trips. Have a plan to ensure boat safety.
There are several special considerations for safety in regard to spearfishing specifically. Some of these considerations include how you should store your equipment. You may also want to plan for specific types of injuries that are possible in addition to normal boating risks. There are also complications that you may need to consider in how you conduct spearfishing trips.
Proper gear storage is one of the biggest aspects of preventing injuries on a boat. This is particularly true with spearfishing gear. Spearguns, and spears are by their nature sharp. Vertical speargun racks are the best method to prevent injuries with spearguns. The most common mistake is to lay the spearguns down on the deck of a boat. The injury is caused when someone walks by and accidentally kicks the end of a spear. It is very easy to end up with a mini or major puncture wound by doing this. At a minimum you should communicate with everyone how you will be storing spearguns to prevent accidents.
Types of Injuries
The most common injuries with spearfishing are minor cuts and scrapes from fish or the reef. While these are the most common they are not the greatest risks. Be aware of careless dive buddies. The risk of accidentally being shot with a speargun is a real risk, especially with a careless dive buddy.
Other types of injuries can include shark bites. These types of injuries are uncommon but are a contingency you need to be prepared for. Statistically, the number of people that are bitten by a shark every year are astronomically small, but there are other factors at play. You are increasing your risk by being in the water. The risk increases further by putting yourself in proximity to struggling and injured fish. Sharks are often one of the top predators in their environment. They may be scared of you, but they may be willing to risk being near you to get a fish.
Additional Complications – Active Boats
While spearfishing, it is common to have one person operating the boat while everyone else dives. This is particularly common in environments where there are heavy currents. The person operating the boat needs to be competent. They need to maintain position near the divers to prevent other boats hitting them, while also not running over the divers themselves. Boat propellers are easily one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment n a boat. While you operate a boat make sure you are aware of all your divers before putting the boat in gear. Every year there are diver fatalities from careless boating accidents.