Coast Guard issues Memorial Day boating safety advisory

BOSTON – The National Safe Boating Week, which began Saturday and is scheduled to run through Friday, coupled with the extended Memorial Day weekend, signals for many the start of the boating and paddling season in the northeast United States.

This is the time of the year when the holiday atmosphere, mixed with inexperience, overconfidence, celebration, alcohol and small mistakes, can easily overtake the basic rules of safety and common sense.

Since 1998, 25 recreational boaters and paddlers have perished over the Memorial Day weekend in the Northeast.

“Of those deaths, motorboat accidents, as well as a personal watercraft accidents, accounted for 16 of the victims, while canoe accidents claimed seven lives and kayak accidents took two lives,” said Al Johnson, the First Coast Guard District’s recreational boating safety specialist.

Johnson also noted that alcohol was a factor in nine of the 25 fatalities and, of the nine, five involved people in canoes, none of whom were wearing life jackets.

“Some infrequent or inexperienced boaters and paddlers can easily overestimate their ability, and when you compound that with high spirits, alcohol and youthful exuberance you’ve got an excellent equation for bringing closure to your plans for the future,” said Johnson.

Of the Memorial Day weekend fatalities, 40 percent ranged from 19 to 24 years of age. Older, more experienced boaters and paddlers accounted for the remaining 60 percent.

Johnson said many boaters and paddlers overlook the primary rule of on-water safety by not wearing a life jacket. The life jacket message for this year’s North American Safe Boating Campaign is, quite simply, “Wear It!” Johnson said it’s the perfect message for Memorial Day and beyond.

Johnson also points out that in the cold waters of the Northeast, the dangers of sudden cold water immersion can be fatal.

“The sudden shock of cold water can immediately immobilize the most competent swimmer and a life jacket is essential,” said Johnson. “It’s your insurance for in-water survival.”

Johnson cites a recent Coast Guard rescue as the prime example of the benefit of wearing a life jacket.

“The Coast Guard was able to rescue a kayaker off the coast of Maine Thursday,” said Johnson. “He was wearing his life jacket and carrying a light. Taking time to prepare with a few safety precautions increased his chances of survival and helped the Coast Guard locate him faster.”

In addition, Johnson reminds people to file a float plan and maintain a means of communication.

“In the event you become disoriented these seemingly minor details can help responders find you,” said Johnson.

This holiday weekend, the Coast Guard is asking boaters and paddlers to do five things as they prepare for another season on the water:

  1. Take advantage of a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Power Squadrons and Coast Guard Auxiliary by calling 1-800-368-5647 or by visiting www.vesselsafetycheck.org.
  2. Assess the risks – be realistic about what can go wrong on the water and be fully equipped and prepared to survive.
  3. Always file a float plan with a responsible individual who knows where you’re going, when you’ll return and who to call if you don’t.
  4. Strive to be a responsible and prudent mariner by boating and paddling safe and sober. Save the alcohol until you’re safely ashore.
  5. Wear your life jacket. There are styles to fit every boater’s and paddler’s need and, remember, when you need your life jacket, you need it on.

With Father’s Day fast approaching, Johnson also recommends that a good quality, comfortably fitting life jacket makes an excellent Father’s Day or a belated Mother’s Day gift.

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