Coast Guard: Weekend Marks Busiest, Deadliest Boating Period

The Fourth of July holiday is not only the busiest boating period of the year, but it also holds the distinction of being the deadliest nationwide. The Boston-based First Coast Guard District notes that since 1998, 39 recreational boating and paddling fatalities have occurred on waters throughout the northeast.

Contributing factors that led to fatalities have included falling overboard, vessels capsizing, and vessel collisions. In these accidents, 15 people died as a result of falling overboard, 13 people died after their vessel capsized, and collisions claimed 11 lives. USCG says 15 lives were lost due to alcohol. According to Al Johnson, recreational boating specialist for the First Coast Guard District, statistics in the northeast indicate that an average of 50 victims have died each year in recreational boating and paddling accidents over the past 12 years, and 89 percent of these were not wearing a life jacket. During the Fourth of July weekend, the national average of 21 percent jumps to 46 percent in the Northeast for fatal boating accidents involving alcohol.

"The Fourth of July holiday has become the most deadly boating and paddling holiday of the year," Johnson said. "And this year the Coast Guard is asking all boaters and paddlers to maximize their safety efforts and be aware, be alert and, above all, stay alive."

Johnson advises all boaters and paddlers on the water this Fourth of July weekend to be prudent mariners, to save the alcohol for when the trip is completed, and to make safety their number one priority. "Your life jacket is your key to survival on the water," he said. "When you need it, you need it on. . . . The misperception persists that you can put on a life jacket once you're in the water. It is extremely difficult to do, and unfortunately for most people immobilized by the shock of sudden immersion, it can be tragically impossible."

Johnson recommends that all boaters and paddlers should:

  • Be aware of present weather and water conditions and forecasts.
  • Never boat or paddle alone; let others know where you're going, when you'll return and who to call if you don't.
  • Always wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket.
  • Practice prudent seamanship – boaters should not exceed their own ability.
  • Know that alcohol and drugs contribute to accidents.
  • Take a Coast Guard approved boater education course.

"As captain of your vessel, you’re in command, and awareness is the key ingredient," Johnson said. "You can relax and enjoy your time on the water, but be alert and aware of what's going on around you as well as the proximity of other vessels. . . . Additionally, boaters must also be aware of what can go wrong and be prepared for a sudden crisis. Make sure you're prepared for emergencies. The safety of your passengers and yourself is at stake and should be your paramount concern."

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