The North American Safe Boating Week runs through May 22.

North American Safe Boating Week Gets Underway

The North American Safe Boating Week, an annual campaign that raises life jacket awareness, launched Saturday and runs through Friday, May 22. The campaign, produced under a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund administered by the U.S. Coast Guard, includes various boating and paddling safety training events, free vessel inspections, and a "Be a Survivor: Wear It!" essay and video contest, among other activities.

USCG noted that in its First District, which stretches from Maine to New Jersey, 55 people died in boating and paddling accidents in 2008. Of those, 54 were not wearing life jackets, it said.

"The single most important piece of survival equipment on the water is your life jacket," said Al Johnson, the USCG's First District recreational boating safety specialist. "What’s important for people to realize is that a crisis can occur on the water at any time."

Johnson added that it is not enough just to bring a life jacket along. "It's plain and simple: when you need your life jacket, you need it on," he said, adding that during the past decade, the First District alone has seen an average of 50 boating and paddling fatalities per year. The majority, he said, could have been prevented if the victim had worn a life jacket. "When you have this many deaths that are so easily preventable, it's tragic," he said.

The national campaign, while strongly emphasizing that life jackets save lives, also stresses that boating education, properly maintained boats and equipment, and safe and sober boating and paddling all contribute to saving lives. In conjunction with the campaign, the USCG Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons announced the start of their Vessel Safety Check Mega Weeks, May 16 through July 5. For a free vessel safety check, contact a local vessel examiner at www.vesselsafetycheck.org.

Also as part of the campaign, the National Safe Boating Council and West Marine® are sponsoring an essay and video contest with a top prize being a $1,000 shopping spree at West Marine. "If you're a boater whose life has been saved by a life jacket, share your survival story," a flyer for the contest says. According to the sponsors, all eligible entrants will receive an NSBC boating safety item valued at approximately $5 and might have their entries included in a future edition of the book "Saved By the Jacket" or on a boating safety Web site! The deadline to submit materials is 5 p.m. EST on Sept. 2, 2009. For terms and conditions, visit www.safeboatingcampaign.com/09contest.htm.

For more details about the 2009 North American Safe Boating Campaign log onto www.safeboatingcampaign.com. To learn more about boating and paddling safety, visit the following Web sites:

U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety: www.uscgboating.org

National Safe Boating Council: www.safeboatingcouncil.org

National Association of State Boating Law Administrators: www.nasbla.org

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