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Watch your wake

The Coast Guard has consistently listed boat wakes among the top 10 primary contributing factors for boating accidents in the United States in its annual Recreational Boating Statistics report. It's been determined that the number of boating accidents and personal injuries attributed to boat wakes during the last four years is an average of 193 people hurt each year because of the force of a boat’s wake and that an average of 211 accidents were caused by the force of a wake.

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It is important to realize that a boat’s wake can be dangerous, so it is imperative to take steps to prevent it from causing damage or injuries. Here are some tips from the Sea Tow Foundation to keep you and others safe on the water.

1. Watch your wake and be aware of the height of the waves coming off your boat. A boat’s wake will be higher when you are in shallow water or narrow channels and when you are traveling at a high speed.

2. Be aware of your surroundings and slow down when you are in close proximity to other boats, especially small boats, which will be more affected by your wake and less able to maneuver away from it.

3. Keep a lookout for people in or near the water. Even a small wake could knock someone down or cause serious injury.

4. Pay particular attention to no-wake zones, including near swimming areas, beaches, marinas and wildlife preserves. Slow to idle speed when it is required. This will keep people and animals safe — and could save you from getting a warning or citation.

5. Avoid letting your boat’s wake hit the shoreline. Large waves can destroy vegetation and cause erosion.

6. If you plan to anchor or simply drift for a while, do so in a low-traffic area so the wakes of passing boats don’t toss your boat and passengers around.

7. Wear a life jacket. If you get knocked off your boat because of a wake, you will be easier to spot — and, of course, the PFD will help keep you from drowning, a primary cause of boating deaths.

Gail R. Kulp is executive director of the Sea Tow Foundation, which promotes safe boating practices and aims to reduce accidents, fatalities and property damage related to recreational boating ( Previously, she was director of education and standards for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

See related articles:

- Real-world lessons

- Situational awareness

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.