Coast Guard Issues Safety Advisory for Busy Boating Weekend

For many boaters and paddlers, Labor Day signals the end of the summer boating season, and with comfortable weather forecasted, the next several days are likely to be one of the busiest ones of the year for the nation’s waterways. The U.S. Coast Guard, along with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, and boating agencies, are thus working together to stress the importance of safety on the water.

“We’re pushing a Labor Day weekend reminder for boaters to end the summer boating season safe and sober,” said Al Johnson, the First Coast Guard District’s recreational boating specialist.

Johnson noted that already this year, 36 boaters and paddlers have lost their lives on Northeast’s inland and coastal waterways. He added that the majority of this year’s fatal accidents involved capsizing or falling overboard, while many of the non-fatal accidents involved collisions with another vessel or fixed object.

“Greater situational awareness could have prevented most of these collisions, which is why it’s so important to be aware of all activity around your vessel at all times,” Johnson said. “When it comes to fatal accidents, for most of the victims, simply wearing a life jacket would have been the deciding factor that could have prevented the loss of their life. When you need your life jacket, you need it on.”

Non-motorized vessels have accounted for 64 percent of fatalities in the northeast this year. Of those fatalities, canoes and kayaks account for 39 percent. Johnson attributes this increase to a long-standing interest in canoeing and the continuing growth in kayaking. He said that higher gas prices and the slow economy have been instrumental in generating a greater interest in paddling, kayak fishing, and non-motorized boating.

“The image and interests of the recreational boater is changing, and the Coast Guard, state agencies, retailers and boating safety education providers are striving to bring safety awareness to boaters and paddlers alike,” he said. “If we could communicate two messages for the Labor Day weekend they would be to simply wear your life jacket and be totally aware at all times of what’s going on around you. It’s usually what you don’t see that you hit or that hits you. On the water, it’s paramount to be a prudent and cautious mariner.”

USCG recommends the following tips for ensuring a safe day on the water:

  • Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, especially children and weak swimmers
  • Be aware of weather and water conditions - remember conditions can change suddenly with little or no warning
  • Never boat or paddle alone--file a float plan to let others know where you are going
  • Be cautious--do not exceed your ability to handle your vessel
  • Know that alcohol and drugs contribute to accidents
  • Be constantly aware of other vessels in the immediate area

Johnson also recommends recreational boaters and sea kayakers carry a VHF-FM marine radio and be familiar with its operation and radio procedures. “A VHF radio, monitored on channel 16, is your gateway to communicating with the Coast Guard or other vessels in your area and can be a life saver in a distress situation,” he said.

For additional boating safety tips, boaters can access USCG’s Boating Safety Web site at www.uscgboating.org. Also, for those interested, the recently released Recreational Boating Statistics 2008 can be found at www.uscgboating.org/statistics/Boating_Statistics_2008.pdf.

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