Boating and paddling fatalities on the rise in Northeast

BOSTON — Along with sunny skies, the waning days of summer have brought an increase in recreational boating and paddling fatalities in the Northeast.

This year there have been 31 recreational boating and paddling related deaths in the First Coast Guard District, which stretches along the coast from Maine to northern New Jersey and eastern New York and also includes Lake Champlain, Vt.

Eight motorboats and three personal watercrafts accounted for one-third of the deaths, while the remaining two-thirds occurred on non-motorized vessels. These included 11 fatalities on canoes, three on rowboats, three on kayaks and three on sailboats.

“The sad thing about these fatal events is that they’re predictable,” said Al Johnson, the First District recreational boating specialist. “What is tragic is that most were preventable.”

“Three of the people who drowned were wearing life jackets, so a life jacket isn’t guaranteed to save your life,” he said. “However, it does greatly improve your chance to survive. Wearing a life jacket is the first and most important step for survival.”

More than 80 percent of the fatalities in the Northeast are the result of falling overboard or capsizing, and 90 percent of people who unexpectedly find themselves in the water are not wearing a life jacket.

Johnson dispelled the notions that the average person can put their life jacket on in the water or that they can rely on their swimming ability to save themselves in a crisis situation.

“Of course it is possible to put a life jacket on in the water if you’re a regular and excellent swimmer, personally acquainted with the life jacket and have previously practiced the procedure,” he said. “But as I see it from my position, if you don’t have all three factors in your favor, there’s a good chance surviving won’t be in your favor either.”

Many marine supply and sporting retailers are offering end-of-summer sales on boating and paddling accessories, including life jackets.

“Now is a great time to try on the various life jacket styles that would work best for your on water activities and to take advantage of end-of-summer sales,” said Johnson.

“Remember, the best life jacket is the one you’ll wear. But getting back to the sad side of boating, we expect at least another 20 or so boating and paddling fatalities by the end of the year. So, if we can get a few folks to take advantage of end-of-summer sales and to wear a life jacket, it just might make a difference for them.”

The U.S. Coast Guard recently released “Recreational Boating Statistics 2008,” its annual publication on statistical information obtained from nationwide recreational boat numbering and casualty reporting systems. It is available to the public at http://www.uscgboating.org/statistics/accident_stats.htm.

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