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Titanic tragedy teaches boaters lessons

One hundred years ago today, the unsinkable RMS Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean, taking 1,503 lives and shocking sailors into a heightened awareness of boating safety.

Modern boaters aboard even the smallest of watercraft should heed the lessons learned from the Titanic disaster that could have been avoided or resulted in the loss of fewer lives.

The BoatUs Foundation offers a list of boating safety tips an international commission called SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) issued two years after the sinking of the Titanic. All are useful today.

The commission suggests "Slow down" when headed through uncertain waters, either fog/cloud cover during the day or in unmarked areas at night.

Communications, a serious problem for Titanic navigators, continues today. Most boaters now rely on a cell phone, which can lose signals in many water areas. Many boaters have stopped using a VHF radio aboard their vessels.

However, BoatUs reminds boat operators, especially on larger bodies of water, that the U.S. Coast Guard monitors VHF Channel 16 2 4/7 ; that emergency device is much more reliable.

Historians say no safety drills were held for Titanic passengers. Modern boaters should show everyone they welcome aboard the location of life preservers, a fire extinguisher, safety flares, the functions of a VHF radio and of other safety gear before leaving the dock.

Today, regulations require each occupant on board have a PFD (personal flotation device/life preserver). A further suggestion is to see that each PFD is the right size for each person's use.

While recommendations are that boaters should wear a PFD at all times, a regulation set in 2009 New York State requires that from Nov. 1 to May 1 all on a vessel traveling in state waters must wear a PFD while the boat is under way.

During every outing, boaters should leave word with someone ashore of their general location and expected trip time. Titanic officials, with radio range of less than 200 miles and at speeds to impress the public, suffered losses as a result of both haste and a loss of contact with shore and prompt rescue assistance.

A hundred years later, boaters could be caught in the very same dilemma -- a lack of awareness about a boater's journey and need for help when capsized or a loss of power.

Modern VHS gear also can be connected to a GPS chart-plotter unit, which gives rescue personnel a means to locate any vessel as soon as a VHS radio's panic button has been pushed.

Boaters traveling alone and/or venturing well away from shore should consider installing an EPERB (personal locator beacon) as a means of locating a vessel.

U.S. Coast Guard officials note that few boaters have EPERB systems or have properly connected a VHF radio to the chart-plotter program.

Cell and smart phone use is grand on land. But while out boating, a hand-held phone is mainly an iffy backup communications device. At least have a working VHF radio on that can be quickly tuned to emergency channel 16.

For details on these and other boating safety reminders, go to