Sharing Rivers With Recreational Boaters Topic At IWC

The Waterways Journal
16 March 2015
By Heather Ervin

A discussion on sharing the waterways with recreational boaters was held during the Inland Waterways Conference on Wednesday, March 4 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown St. Louis, Mo.

The panel was led by Ed Huntsman, recreational boating safety specialist with the Coast Guard; Gary Frommelt, vice president-marine operations with Entertainment Cruises; and Chris Stec, chief operating officer with the American Canoe Association.

Moderated by Alan Bernstein, director of Maritime Meetings, the panel suggested ways in which the inland marine industry can continue to practice safe operating conditions while sharing the water with recreational boaters, fishermen, cruise ships and others who enjoy the waterways.

“As with all professionals, towboat operators can continue to serve as good role models using sound signals, proper VHF radio procedures, not overusing their powerful search lights at night that can blind boaters, and try to remember that those recreational boaters they encounter may not have even a basic understanding of the rules of the road,” said Hunstman. “Captains shouldn’t hesitate to sound a danger signal if they suspect there is a situation developing and use their PA system to let boaters know they are entering a dangerous area and to allow towboat operators room to maneuver.”

Safety suggestions for recreational boaters were also discussed.

“Recreational boaters should exercise situational awareness anytime they are on the water,” said Huntsman. “Boating needs to be fun, but prudent boaters prepare beforehand to ensure basic safety measures have been put into place.”

These safety precautions include obtaining a vessel safety check from the Coast Guard or U.S. Power Squadron; ensuring the boat has been serviced and fueled before leaving its slip or ramp; obtaining a boater’s education course through the Coast Guard, the Department of Natural Resources, BoatUS, etc.; checking that their VHF radio is operational and knowing how to use it properly; avoiding alcohol or drugs while on a boat; staying hydrated to avoid illness during operation; and wearing a life jacket that is Coast Guard approved.

Huntsman said it is crucial that boaters receive educational training on how to properly and safely operate their boats and watercraft through state or boating agencies. Approved courses can be found online at

“We’re all boaters trying to have a good day on the water,” added Huntsman. “Whether we are professionals delivering cargo, instructing a student or out for the day with our family and friends, we have a right in this country enjoy the waterways. We also have a duty to operate our boats in a safe manner, which means watching out for the other guy.”

Hunstman said recreational boaters have told him not to worry. “They say it will never happen to me, but to the other guy,” he said. “I’m quick to remind them that to everyone else, they are the other guy.”

Related to the issue of boater safety on the water, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has announced a campaign entitled Spring Aboard to be held April 20–26. It is open to participation by all states, territories, boating education organizations, instructors and course providers, regardless of whether their state’s boater education courses are mandated or voluntary.

According to a report released by the Coast Guard in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security in 2013, the number of recreational boating-related deaths, injuries and accidents have decreased dramatically since 1997. Accidents have decreased by nearly half from more than 8,000 accidents in 1997 to 4,062 accidents in 2013.