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Tres Martin’s Safety Corner: Dial Out Distraction

The horror stories are endless—an automobile driver looks down to check out a text on his smart phone, tune in a radio station or looks over his shoulder to warn his rambunctious kids (“If I have to stop this car …”) and plows into the back of the car stopped in front of him or veers into a group of pedestrians. People die or, at the very least, lives change forever.


Whether you are driving your performance boat at idle speed or at 100 mph, you need to dial out any distraction that could compromise your situational awarness. Photo courtesy/copyright Jay Nichols/Naples image.

It’s called “Distracted Driving,” and there any number of federal, state, local and even mobile phone service provider campaigns with the goal of trying to end it. Perhaps most notable among these efforts is AT&T’s “It can wait” anti-texting-while-driving campaign.

But while there are fewer high-performance boats on the water than cars on the road, the problem of distracted driving is significant among go-fast boat operators.

“I think it’s a bigger factor in accidents than people admit,” says Tres Martin, the founder of the Performance Boat School that bears his name. “Nobody wants to admit that they got into an accident because they weren’t paying attention, because it makes them feel foolish.”

Martin is emphatic on the need for performance-boat drivers to constantly maintain what he and fellow driver school instructor Brad Schoenwald call “situational awareness” in their driving courses. It is, he says, at least as important as anything else when it comes safety.

“What we teach in school is that you need to be on a ‘high alert level’ when you’re operating a performance boat,” says Martin. “You have to be focused on everything at hand. You need to be driving defensively. What is boat is driving next to you going to do? Check out the group of personal watercraft over there. What do you think they are going to do?

“The loss of situational awareness happens when the driver takes his eyes off what we call the complete sightline of operation,” he continues. “As drivers, we have ‘front focus,’ where we are going and what’s ahead of us, and ‘peripheral focus,’ all the things that are going on around us. We need to pay attention to both. When you’re driving, you need to be on high-alert level. You need to understand and be aware that something is going to go wrong. You’re not sightseeing—drivers fall into that trap all the time. When you’re behind the wheel, it’s no longer just a ‘fun boat ride.'”

Potential distractions to performance-boat drivers are everywhere, from their own instruments at the dash to passengers next to and behind them. All of those distractions must be proactively dialed out.

“Let’s say you’re notice your oil temperature is high and your water pressure is low,” Martin explains. “Don’t try to troubleshoot it while you’re running. Slow down, take the boat off plane and then try to figure out what the problem is. Don’t try to analyze it while you’re running 100 mph.”

Martin instructs his students to use a “sweeping look” approach for all viewing instruments including GPS units while underway. And if you know, in general, how fast your boat will be running at various engine speeds (rpm) you can remove the speedometer from your sweep, and that’s one less gauge to check.

Drivers also need to elminate passenger distractions. That can be tough with a boatload of high-energy guests—and for good reason they tend to be wildly enthusiastic in go-fast boats—but it’s essential for the driver.

“You might have an intercom system in your boat, and your passengers might be creating all kinds of chatter on it about what happened the night before,” he continues. “Take off your headset, or if necessary, have them take off theirs. Be proactive about it.

“Anything that creates a distraction could get you into trouble, so you have to be aware of what’s going on around you at all times, from idle speed to 100 mph and beyond,” he concludes. “You need to stay aware. Performance boats don’t turn that well, and they don’t have brakes.”

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