BASRA appeals for duty exemption on boating safety equipment

AFTER seeing so many lives needlessly lost at sea, a Grand Bahama BASRA official is calling on government to allow for safety equipment to be imported duty free for Bahamian boaters.

Gary Simmons stressed that many boaters lack the proper safety equipment on board their vessels, and unfortunately lose their lives unnecessarily.

“I would like to petition the government/Customs Department, and say that all safety equipment, including anchors, ropes, flare kits, GPS, emergency locators — everything to do with a boat should be duty free; it could save a life,” Mr Simmons, of Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association, said.

Mr Simmons has been in commercial salvage and search and rescue for 30 years.

“There is a 50-50 chance of coming back and not coming back,” he told boaters at a town meeting held in Eight Mile Rock this week hosted by Transport Minister Jobeth Coleby-Davis.

Mr Simmons reported that he has witnessed many cases where lives were lost because the boater did not have a simple locater that costs about $100.

“Most of the time … the Bahamian will take a cooler with ice, bait, some drinks and a cellphone, and you will forget your life jackets, and what anchor you should be taking - you’ll forget everything to go fishing,” he said.

He noted that in the US there is a minimum mandatory safety equipment pack for the size of the boat. That, he stated, is something that BASRA has been requesting for years.

“For years and years, BASRA has been asking to please make that mandatory,” he added.

He believes that vessels should also be licensed and inspected just as it is required for cars.

“I think we should go to the boat and inspect it,” he said. “I rescued a lot of boats upside down and a lot missing at sea, and it is always some stupid reason that they did not repair the boat properly, holes in the water line, and bilge pumps don’t have capacity to keep up.

“And I get choked up thinking about it because most of them took their boat to somebody to patch it. And there is some guy who will say, ‘I can patch boats,’ and they put their life on it, and the boat cracks and starts sinking. And that’s it – game over.

“What I recommend moving forward as a community, island, and nation, is that we take time and look at our boats and make sure the bilge pumps are correct, ignition system is correct, that we have fire extinguishers, two proper anchors, that we have proper flare kits, and locators on the boat.”

He said when they get a phone call at BASRA about an overdue fishing vessel, the caller does not know where the boater left from, where they went, or what kind of vessel it was.

Mr Simmons said for $99 boaters can get a small GPS unit that transmits via satellite, or a basic tracker and put it on the boat so that their loved ones always knows where they are. A VHF marine radio should also be on board for communication, he said.

He said it will assist BASRA to make rescue arrangements whenever they get that call from their loved one.

Mr Simmons said smartphones are only as good as the range, which is about ten miles from shore.

“Ten miles you carry on a conversation, but past that you are out of range,” he said.

Mr Simmons said boaters should let somebody know exactly where they are and how long they plan to be gone.

“That is one of the most important things. Don’t just jump on the boat. Of all the cases we had, it did not turn out well,” he said.


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