Be safe out on the water - News, Weather and Classifieds for Southern New England

Be safe out on the water

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Holidays and boating go hand in hand, but so too do holidays and accidents.

Don Gunning is a captain with the Newport Fire Department and is familiar with what it takes to stay safe on local waterways.

"On any hot day, or holiday, or combination of those two things, traffic increases on the water, on the land, and our call volume goes right up," Gunning said.

And that was certainly the case in Rhode Island on the Fourth of July.

Warwick and North Kingstown fire departments were deployed to assist a swimmer who couldn't get to his raft or to his aluminum boat when the current was stronger than he expected between Prudence and Patience islands.

Portsmouth fire rescuers had to check out a swimmer who became fatigued, but got to the shore OK with the help of friends at Sandy Point Beach.

Professional rescuers said while help is always available, it's not always close by.

"Sometimes it takes a while, like up to 45 minutes, to get a vessel on scene. So, that can be a long time if you're in distress," Gunning said.

Gunning said people shouldn't assume the U.S. Coast Guard can help instantly, either.

"The Coast Guard has been hurt with budget cuts and also are tasked to do other things So, although they are available, their assets are limited," he said.

Gunning said swimmers still need to be careful and that all boaters should have the knowledge required to operate the vessel they're captaining.

He even has a suggestion as to how to effectively improve marine skills.

"There are courses offered by (Department of Environmental Management), a safe boating course, that's always good to do. The Coast Guard offers courses, and also private vendors offer different types of training for the rules of the road, and for maneuvering boats," Gunning said.

Gunning also recommended another crucial tool to have onboard any boat.

"Hopefully, everybody that goes out on a boat has a marine VHF radio with them, so they can call the Coast Guard or a fire department in case of an emergency. A cell phone also works well, but without those two things, you're out there by yourself, really," Gunning said.

And if you do end up requiring assistance, there are a few things to remember.

"If they can give their location, either geographically, like off of a point, or near a piece of land or a body of water, that helps or if they can give their latitude and longitude by using a GPS that's great. We need to know the color and/or size of the boat that they're on, and we need to know what's wrong with them. Is someone hurt? Is someone missing? Is the boat on fire? What is the emergency? We need to know that," he said.

Gunning said it never hurts to just use good old common sense out on the water.

"We always recommend that you be careful, and don't imbibe too much. We don't want anybody getting hurt, obviously, so moderation is always the best choice," Gunning said.

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