Boaters urged to think safety

This year the holiday weekend coincides with National Safe Boating Week and Coast Guard Stations throughout Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia will be on patrol. Boaters can expect an increased presence from the Coast Guard who will be paying particular attention to Recreational Boating Safety this weekend.

Being educated about safe boating could save a life. Most boating fatalities occur on boats where the operator had not completed a boating safety education course. Courses cover many aspects of boating safety, from boat handling to reading the weather.

The Coast Guard urges boaters to obtain a free vessel safety check, which can be conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, before heading out to the water. Vessel safety checks, are courtesy examinations of your vessel, verifying the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations. This year during National Safe Boating Week, and throughout the boating season, remember to practice safe and responsible boating. Always wear a life jacket and be alert and aware while on the water. Safe boating saves lives, so remember to "Boat Smart. Boat Safe. WEAR IT!"

Also, boating under the influence, or boating while intoxicated, is just as deadly as drinking and driving. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. Penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail terms.

Nationwide, over 700 people die every year in boating and paddling accidents. Approximately two-thirds drown, and, of these, over 90% were not wearing a life jacket. The most recent data for the mid-Atlantic's Fifth Coast Guard District, shows 94 people died in boating and paddling accidents this year; many were not wearing a life jacket. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents accounting for nearly 20% of all reported fatalities.

Here are some other tips to help boaters have a safe and pleasant summer on the water:

  • Make sure a friend or relative knows your float plan. A float plan states where you are going and how many people are on board your vessel. It also gives a vessel description, details your destination and what time you expect to arrive there. If you are delayed for some reason, make sure you let someone know.
  • Make certain to check the local weather prior to departing the dock. Weather can change very rapidly and you should keep a watchful eye on the forecasted conditions.
  • Have nautical charts of the area you are boating in, a global positioning device and a reliable means of communication on board your vessel. VHF-radio is the best method of communications while on the water. Although cell phones are a good backup, they can be unreliable due to gaps in coverage area and the inevitable dead battery.
  • Wear your life jacket! Eighty-five percent of boaters who drown were not wearing their life jackets. In an emergency there might not be enough time to put one on, so wearing one at all times may save your life.

For further boating safety information, check online at one of the following:

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
Vessel Safety Checks
Coast Guard Boating Safety page
National Safe Boating Council
U.S. Power Squadrons
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