Avoiding tragedy on the water this Memorial Weekend

Small mistakes can lead to big problems in the water. (WTOP File)

WASHINGTON – If you plan to climb aboard a boat this Memorial Day weekend, keep in mind small mistakes can lead to big problems.

Potomac River bass fishing guide Steve Chaconas says it’s not good enough to have a life vest or personal floatation device (PFD) with you on the boat.

“There’s no reason not to wear a personal floatation device. Get one, put it on, make sure it fits, and wear it the entire time you’re out on the water,” he says.

Chaconas says there have been cases of people falling into the river, getting tangled in underwater grasses, and dying.

“We’ve had a couple of drownings over the past couple of years, including a member of our law enforcement community who died in grass because they became disoriented, got stuck in the grass, and weren’t able to figure out which end was up. If they had been wearing a PFD and it helped them float back to the surface, they would have survived. So even people who are professionally trained can succumb to a tragedy if they’re not wearing the proper equipment,” says Chaconas.

He says even if you’re just a passenger on someone else’s boat, it’s crucial that you know where on the boat the safety equipment is, and how to use it in an emergency.

“You need to know where your ‘throwable’ is. This is something that, if someone goes overboard, we throw this floating device to them. It’s either a buoy or a square cushion. We throw that to them, everybody on the boat needs to know where it is and how to do it,” he says.

It’s also very important not to leave the dock without letting someone know.

“Make a float trip plan. That’s a plan that tells somebody else where you’re going, when you’re going to be at a certain place, (and) when you plan to be off the water. Because if you don’t show up, at least somebody will know where you were supposed to be, and they’ll know where to send for help,” Chaconas says.

May 18 to 24 is National Safe Boating Week, and you can read more safety tips from the U.S. Coast Guard here.

Follow this link for a boating safety checklist.

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