Nothing stirs on the lake as you drift along on your boat. It seems the day will be perfect. You are at peace.

More than 4,500 recreational boating accidents happened last year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. More than 550 of them occurred just because the driver wasn’t paying attention.

About 83 percent of the people who died due to drowning weren’t wearing life jackets.

People drinking while boating made up around 14 percent of the people reported to the Coast Gaurd.

“Safe boating should be practiced ... every time one boards a boat,” said Capt. Barry Sroka of the Coast Guard.

Sroka is also a past commodore of Savannah River Sail and Power Squadron.

The squadron is a local branch of the United States Power Squadron, whose motto is “an educated boater is a safer boater,” Sroka said.

To carry out that motto, the squadron offers various classes.

Some topics they teach are navigation, engine maintenance, weather, anchoring, safety equipment and boat insurance.

Courses are available online if one can’t attend the in-class sessions.

To learn more about the local courses offered, call education officer Paulette Holmes at 706-737-8113.

A safer boat

Going to school is not the only step toward having a safer boat.

Getting an annual vessel safety check is recommended for even the “most cautious boater,” Sroka said. It’s free, convenient and over in about 30 minutes.

“The vessel examiner will look at the following safety areas of your boat: proper display numbers, registration and documentation, personal flotation devices, i.e. life jackets, visual distress signals, fire extinguishers, ventilation, backfire flame arrester, sound producing devices, navigation lights and the overall vessel condition,” Sroka said.

Boat owners who pass will receive a decal. Those that don’t will receive a write-up of the issues.

“Often, a quick trip to the local marine store is all that is needed to get any missing safety items,” Sroka said. “If you show your examiner-signed VSC report, you may receive a discount.”

The report is conducted through the squadron, the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The necessary tools

A part of preparation is getting the necessary tools on board, like life jackets, Sroka said.

Life jackets are especially important for the non-skilled swimmers, said Stuart Dudley, aquatic director at the Family Y of Aiken.

Life jackets also come in handy due to the rough waters one might face if thrown overboard, according to the Coast Guard’s website.

Check machinery

Once your boat has all the equipment, check its machinery.

“Carbon monoxide can accumulate anywhere in or around your boat,” according to the Coast Guard website.

It can form due to blocked exhaust outlets and back drafting. Other vessel’s exhausts can be a factor, as well as the carbon monoxide just letting out from a stopped or idling ship.

To prevent poisoning, know and avoid the areas where gas comes from. To prevent the problem all together, always keep fresh air circulating through the boat.

Now the vessel has been checked, verified and is ready to go.

Float plan

Before any trip, though, another piece of paper should be filled out – a float plan.

A float plan contains all the details a rescue squad could find useful – how many are in your party? What type of boat do you have? Where do you plan on stopping?

Then, leave the plan with a trusted comrade. This way, in case something were to happen, he or she can give this sheet to the proper authorities.

In the cooler

Something you might want to bring on a day out are refreshments.

Be cautious of what you pack, though – you can still get in trouble, even on the water.

The law is called BUI – boating under the influence.

“It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. ... This law pertains to all boats, from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships and includes foreign vessels that operate in U.S. waters, as well as U.S. vessels on the high seas,” as stated on the Coast Guard’s website.

If the driver’s blood alcohol content level reaches 0.08 percent, fines, license suspensions and other penalties will occur, according to the DUI Foundation.

Have fun, be safe

You want to have fun wherever you go, and that might include getting in the water.

In that case, swimming is a good skill to know. The Aiken Family Y offers classes for children for ages 6 months old to adults.

“Get kids in swim lessons and get them understanding the potential dangers before getting them in the water at all; it’s the cautionary stuff that’s the biggest help,” Dudley said.

Never swim alone, he said. Guardians should keep an eye on the kids.

Once someone starts to drown, it’s hard for them to call for help.

“It’s your body’s natural instincts to close your lungs so you don’t swallow water,” Dudley said. “That’s why most drownings are so quick, and you don’t hear (the victims).”

When drownings start to occur, the Y’s lifeguards go through one of their emergency action plans, where each lifeguard plays a part.

Each lifeguard has to know CPR, first-aid and more in order to work at the center.

For more information on the Aiken Y’s services, call 803-349-8080.

Take a boating course

The Savannah Squadron will hold a Safe Boating Course on June 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The course will address safety equipment, navigation, laws, adverse conditions and more.

It will be held at the Fire Station No. 1 Classroom on 1 Broad St., Augusta. The cost is $25.

For more information on the squadrons, visit

Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard, where she reports, edits and lays out pages. She graduated in July 2012 with a journalism degree from Valdosta State University and lives with her family in Evans, Ga.