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Remember to check in this Christmas

WHITSUNDAYS boaties could be risking their own lives by skipping one easy task before heading out on the water.

It has been revealed as few as 10% of boaties leaving Mackay Harbour check in with a life-saving service before setting out, and a man was forced to swim to shore after his boat capsized offshore on Saturday night.

Volunteer Marine Rescue Whitsunday president Mal Priday said his crew of volunteers covered a staggering 13,000 sq km patch.

"Sometimes they (boaties) take it for granted that we'll be there and we know where they are,” he said.

"But sometimes the information we get from an activation is pretty sketchy at best and they can be miles away from where they think they are.”

One simple step that many did not take could make all the difference if things were to go wrong.

"It's good practise if have VHF radio to let us know what your intentions are,” Mr Priday said.

"At least then we have a starting point if we know your intentions and you fail to come back on time.

"And it's always good to let a friend or relative know where you're going and what to do if you're not back by a set time.”

The Whitsudays had the highest boat-ownership ratio in Queensland, Mr Priday said, and with the busy holiday period having already begun, he urged boaties to check their vessels were in good condition, understand how to use equipment like GPS before they set off, and always check the weather.

And for those going to the outer reef, to make sure there was plenty of reserve fuel.

"Some people only use their boat two or three times a year and think it's 100%,” he said.

"...(I) see people having trouble starting the boat at the ramp and then going out for the day. They're taking a hell of a chance.

"And having lifejackets in the boat is no good if they're stuffed under a seat.”

Having a VHF radio, Mr Priday said, was the best bet in an emergency.

"Don't rely mobile phone coverage,” he said.

"There are lots of dead areas on the other side of the islands and if you send out a help call by mobile phone the guy around the corner can't hear you and come to help.” 

On Saturday night a boat capsized "some distance offshore” from Mackay, and a man on-board was forced to swim to the beach, according to Mackay Police city inspector Ian Haughton said.

"The person has swum back to shore and made it back to land around midday. That person was being assessed at Mackay Base Hospital after that,” he said.

"The person is safe and well and it's just another reminder at this time of year to be absolutely careful on what you're doing.

"If you are going to sea, make sure you've got all your safety gear and please make sure that there is a trip recorded on your expected arrival time and where you might be going.”

The incident came after a fatality in October when a boat sunk near Bailey Island and the grounding of a yacht in between St Bees and Keswick islands last week.  

Boaties can communicate with VMR Whitsunday on VHF channels 16, 67, 81 and 82. The distress channels are 16 and 67.


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