The dangers of boater’s fatigue
A common phenomenon, boater’s fatigue occurs when you’re out enjoying a day on the water. Caused by environmental stressors, boater’s fatigue can impair both your physical and mental performance.
Environmental stressors include anything in an individual’s physical environment that causes stress or anxiety. Part and parcel of daily life, they include noisy crowds or heavy traffic, overly bright or dim lighting, and uncomfortable furniture or sitting positions. We usually don’t even notice the effect these environmental stressors have on our daily lives.
But our bodies notice.
On-the-water environmental stressors
While a day on the water can eliminate many of our everyday environmental stressors, the water brings its own stressors. In addition to burning unprotected skin, sunlight bouncing off the water affects your vision, compromising color perception, peripheral vision and depth perception. It also contributes to dehydration.
Engine noise and vibration provide additional environmental stressors, as does the boat’s constant motion.
Collectively, these stressors lead to boater’s fatigue: a sudden tiredness coupled with impaired judgement, reaction time and balance. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Coast Guard has associated boater’s fatigue with four of the five primary contributing factors in recreational boating accidents.
How to combat boater’s fatigue
You cannot eliminate boater’s fatigue, but you can reduce its effects by taking a few simple precautions.
- Dress appropriately for the weather, wear sunglasses, use sunscreen, and drink enough water while underway to maintain hydration.
- Don’t pilot your vessel for more than two continuous hours at a time. Take breaks by turning the helm over to someone else. If no one on board can operate your vessel, time your stops appropriately.
Although part of the boating experience, boater’s fatigue need not be dangerous as long as you’re aware of it and take steps to reduce its effects. -John Swenson
This article first appeared in The Tidings, newsletter of San Carlos Bay Sail & Power Squadron/22.