Beaufort Water Search and Rescue Skipper Clay Emminger tells a story about a couple of fellas who put their boat in the water around Halloween a few years ago and completely ignored all the signs.
They were the only folks on the water, and they’d launched from an empty boat ramp — during shrimping season, when the ramp should be busy.
They didn’t check the forecast or the water conditions. They were broadsided by a wave. They lost their boat. They could have lost their lives.
The moral of the story? In addition to making sure your boat is in working order and your life jackets fit properly, take a moment to look around.
Never miss a local story.
“If you pull up to a boat landing, especially during shrimping season, and the ramp’s empty ... maybe don’t go out,” Emminger said. “There’s a reason why the locals aren’t in the river.”
If you’re planning on boating or kayaking in the Lowcountry, here are some safety tips, commonly overlooked laws and technology — in addition to common sense — that will help you safely enjoy Beaufort County’s waterways.
If you’re experiencing an emergency, dial 911. In less pressing situations, you can call S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ 24-hour hotline at 1-800-922-5431, according SCDNR’s Lt. Michael Thomas.
Take your cell phone with you, make sure it’s fully charged and try to waterproof it as best you can. Emminger also recommends carrying an a VHF radio that’s waterproof and floats — you can call the U.S. Coast Guard on Channel 16 in an emergency.
Other things that work:
▪ Flare guns
▪ Waving your arms and yelling
▪ Mirrors and other reflective items — such as the red-and-white tape you can stick on your kayak — can catch people’s eyes if you’re out of earshot.
Before you go out, make sure you tell someone where you’re going. Try not to boat or kayak alone. Take plenty of water. Wear your life jacket.
Those life jackets have to be the appropriate size and fit.
Ill-fitting and improperly maintained life jackets are two of the most common violations Thomas sees on the water.
And remember you’re always responsible for your boat’s wakes — whether you’re in a wake zone or not. Slow down when you’re around other boats, structures and docks — especially fuel docks.
“When you’re in the vicinity of other property, you’re still responsible for damage from your boat’s wake,” Thomas said. “Be courteous and remember that some docks might still have hurricane damage and are just hanging on.”
A complete list of SCDNR’s boating regulations can be found at www.dnr.sc.gov/regs/boating.html.
Your phone can be a great resource for information about navigation, weather and the tides.
Here’s what Emminger uses when he’s preparing to go out on the water:
▪ AccuWeather, for general forecast information, and RadarNow!, for radar imaging and hour-by-hour weather forecasts
▪ USA Tides, for customizable, location-specific tide charts
▪ Navionics, for mapping routes and determining position
▪ And any app that can determine your position and report it in latitude and longitude coordinates, which you can in turn relay to rescuers
A pro tip from Thomas: If you’re stranded in the water and can pinpoint your location on your phone’s map app, you can take a screenshot of your position and send it to first responders — you might get rescued quicker.
▪ South Carolina location-specific tide charts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can be found at: http://bit.ly/2n34equ.
▪ Weather and marine forecasts from the National Weather Service’s Charleston station — which covers our area — can be found at: http://www.weather.gov/chs/.
Beaufort County boat landing locations can be found at http://bit.ly/1zf39vO.
How to use Coast Guard emergency Channel 16
According to the USCG’s website, here’s how you should call in an emergency using a VHF radio tuned to Channel 16:
- Press and hold the transmit button
- Clearly say: “Mayday, mayday, mayday”
- Give the name and description of your vessel, including: position and/or location; nature of emergency; number of people on board
- Release the transmit button
- Wait 10 seconds and repeat the call if you don’t hear a response