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Do You Have a Water-Exit Plan?

We’re sad to report that a liveaboard boater in the Oakland-Alameda Estuary drowned Friday night, apparently having fallen into the 55-degree water and becoming tangled in docklines or other rigging. Drinking is thought to have played a role in the tragic death.

Unfortunately, such sad events are common in Bay waters, especially during the winter months, when docks are slippery — and occasionally icy — and fewer potential rescuers are around to take notice.

With that in mind, we advise all boaters to assess their boat and adjacent docks for winter-related dangers. Most importantly, be aware of the water-exiting options near your boat. If no swim or safety ladders are deployed nearby, the best means of self-rescue is often via a transom-mounted swim platform on a nearby powerboat.

Emergency exit ladders like this FloatStep unit can literally be a lifesaver, but not many marinas have them.

© 2011 Atlantic Aluminum Marine

Having pulled out one of our marina neighbors on a cold, dark night two winters ago, this writer can attest to the urgency of finding a route out quickly. The powerboater we rescued said he hadn’t been in the water long, but already his legs were too numb to kick (or stand), and he was too short of breath to yell loudly.

We’d also suggest that if the docks near your boat tend to get slick and slimy, request that they be pressure-washed by your marina’s staff.

We don’t know how big a role drinking played in the death of the Oakland mariner, but we know heavy drinking (and possible drug use) has played a major role in the deaths of other boaters in various parts of the Bay during recent winters. Ironically, while the holiday season is probably the most joyful time of year for most people, it can be the saddest or most depressing time for others. So we urge you to keep an eye out for neighbors in need, and be extra careful when walking on docks and decks this winter.

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Over the holiday weekend, two of the three boats remaining in Leg One of the Volvo Ocean Race made port in Cape Town, South Africa.