So this is not a breaking news topic for drivers on the road, with motor vehicle laws in place and enforced to address this behavior. We all know from the media, or even personal experience, what the negative results of this type of driving hazard presents with texting (a classic example of loss of situational awareness). This form of risk also applies to other modes of transportation, in particular:  boating.

The Navigation Rules of the Road are primarily designed for one purpose and that is: collision avoidance. Managing the helm position has a lot of responsibility attached to it. Other passengers on your boat are counting on you to get them to the destination safely. That specific objective cannot be accomplished if you are distracted when operating the vessel, especially at high speeds in congested or rough waters. Sounds just like a description of the lake during the busy season, a prime time for on-the-water activities when the weather is perfect and the crowds are large.

That’s not the only hazard when operating on the water. The whole perception of risk assessment, the very same thing you do when driving your vehicle, changes in this aquamarine environment.

Underway on your boat, the pathways are not normally restricted to route, and speed is seldom controlled by signage or law, except in no-wake zones. What was once guided in paved traffic patterns, signs, and lights, now becomes a domain of all different directions and situations.

The secret to absorbing this information is learning the fine art of situational awareness, which should always be present in collision avoidance. Knowing how to recognize situations, before they happen is one of the keys to success in boating safety.

Observing your surroundings without distraction may sound simple but in reality, it is far from it. The only way to develop this mindset is practice. You can study countless books on the subject, take every examination that exists, and it still would not adequately prepare you for what may come out on the water. The absolute best way to gain that experience is either witness by demonstration or do it yourself, with simulation or hands-on. Operating your vessel safely and having a proper lookout at all times are fundamental.

Sometimes the beginning of the learning process, the origins of the proficiency, is the study of previous incidents. Application of that knowledge is an excellent method to eliminate or reduce dangers.

On the water there is always the chance for conditions to rapidly change, causing priorities to shift. The primary focus of the boat operator should be to always safely move the vessel through any situation, at the appropriate speed, and completely aware of their surroundings without any distractions.

Expect the unexpected … and nothing becomes a surprise.