Sunburn and Sunscreen – You’ve probably already guessed it but the sun here will get you! The Sun is reflected on the sand, water, above you as well as directly on you. This means keeping your body covered in sunscreen multiple times per day. The sun will also dehydrate you quickly so having plenty of water to drink is also necessary. Getting burned will make the next few days less fun and using sunscreen can prevent that. Also the UV protecting shirts are great to keep the sun in check as you spend your day out on the boat. Don’t worry, you will still get plenty of tanning with sunscreen on.
Polarized Sunglasses – any sunglasses will help but polarized sunglasses are important on the water and the beach to protect your eyes from the strong UV rays here. Long term exposure to this type of sun intensity without UV protection and polarized glasses can harm your eyes. The main benefit of polarized lenses is they reduce glare and reduce the amount of light hitting the eye, thereby protecting your eye. The effect of glare is created when sunlight reflects off a flat surface causing light to reflect in every direction. Normal tinted sunglass lenses do not block glare, they only reduce the brightness of horizontal and vertical light.
3-points of contact – While on a moving vessel, ensure everyone on the boat maintains 3 points of contact when moving around. Your hands and feet make 4 points of possible contact. Keep 3 in contact at all times so falls and injury can be averted. Most of us have seen videos of people getting bashed around in a boat when an unexpected wave hits or a sharp turn surprises occupants. This is really important when the water is rough or choppy.
Look around and scan continuously – When boating, the captain needs to maintain constant vigilance for other boat traffic, floating debris in the water, Manatees and other sea life, and especially their passengers. Scanning the area and keeping your “head on a swivel” helps you be aware of any approaching danger and any issues that might arise. It is good to have others on the boat, especially a crowded boat, to help keep an eye out too. Collisions on water can be disastrous so avoidance is crucial.
Shoals, Shallow water and channel markers – Many of our renters’ experience may be more in lakes than oceans. The Florida waters in the gulf are characterized by shoaling, a term referring to the many sandbars and shifting sands under the water’s surface. The water is vast and appears to be a huge span of, you guessed it, OCEAN. But in that wide expanse there are massive areas of hidden shoals, and shallow water lurking below the surface that may be only a few inches deep. Channel markers point out areas that are either naturally occurring deeper water or areas dredged to remain deep enough for boating traffic. Most motor boats need about 2 feet of water depth as a minimum. Keep in mind the tide can drop 2 feet during the day too so shoals cause trouble during low tide. Using channel markers is best. Remember Red on the Right Returning!
Lifelines and life vests – Boats are required by the Coast Guard to have a life vest for each occupant on the vessel and a throwable life preserver as well. Wearing the vest while on the boat is optional for adults and children 6 years and older. All children under 6 MUST wear an approved vest at ALL times while on the vessel. When swimming in deeper water (to deep to touch), and areas with a current or waves, it is a good idea to wear your vests to prevent exhaustion. It is easy to jump over to take a swim and get caught in current going away from the boat. The struggle to get back to the boat for not-so-strong swimmers can be possibly overwhelming. A vest can be very important. Using a life line while swimming in deeper water is also a great idea; tie a line to the throwable cushion and hang it off the boat for people to grab onto and provide resting periods from the strain to stay afloat. Someone should always stay on the boat and keep an eye on the swimmers in your group to prevent a dangerous situation from occurring. There are numerous drownings in the Florida waters that could be prevented by using these safety measures. Don’t let a tragedy happen that could be easily prevented.
Currents and Waves – Water is moving all the time. The wind causes waves. Prevailing winds have a long term effect on the surface water. The more wind, the bigger the waves. Current is what is happening under the surface and may have nothing at all to do with wind direction. Tides move in and out of harbors and bays affecting the current drastically. The narrow channels can have very strong currents as massive amounts of water move into or out of the bay. The current of water in the Gulf also means it is moving up or down the coast, combined with tides and wind, the water is always going somewhere. Be aware before getting in the water, especially deeper than a couple feet so you can plan for safety. Rip currents happen on the coast when water has to escape the coast line between areas where water is flowing onto the beach. These outlets are small therefore swift and strong sweeping out to the Gulf. If caught in a rip current SWIM PARRALLEL TO THE BEACH. This allows you to get out of the current and into a current going back to the beach. Swimming against the rip current toward the beach is futile. Even walking toward the beach in a rip can be futile and exhausting.
Orientation, GPS, Maps – It is easy to see the coast of Florida while boating. It is not always so easy to pick out the channel or inlet that you came out of when returning to the boat launch. In fact finding any channel or inlet can be challenging to the newcomer. The land seems to offer no open space from the angle of the boater. There are many blind pass entrances when just looking in from the Gulf. When in the bay, it can be difficult to see around islands and peninsulas to find the way out or in when coming and going. Therefore, maps or GPS is really helpful. There are many boating apps for your phone. Some are free and work well too. Even Google maps works for boating around the coastline. It is REALLY IMPORTANT for boaters to consider in advance where they want to go and look on a map where it is and how far it is before just launching the boat from the dock. What’s the old saying, Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance! Take some time and do a Float Plan before you go. Know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Lightning Strikes – Tampa is referred to as the Lightning Capital of the World for a reason. Many times a year people are struck by lightning here! Don’t be one of them. Watch for storms to pop up. Use your weather apps and radar maps on your phone to watch out so you aren’t caught on the open water in a thunderstorm. Many small storms may pop up and pass by quickly but when a large storm comes on you, the rain can make visibility zero. You are responsible as the captain for making sure you watch and stay out of such storms and keep everyone safe. When in Florida, if you hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck. Stay inside during that time and remain safe with your family.