Coast Guard issues safety advisory for Memorial Day weekend in Northern New England

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine – Memorial Day weekend for many signals the beginning of the recreational boating and paddling season.

As the air temperatures grow warmer each day, personnel at Coast Guard Sector Northern New England are reminding mariners that the water temperature is still very cold at 48 degrees off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire.

“Just recently the Coast Guard was able to rescue a sinking pleasure craft off the coast of Cape Porpoise, Maine,” said Lt. Lisa Ceraolo, the command center chief at Coast Guard Sector Northern New England. “The boaters in this case did the right thing by calling for help as soon as they realized they were in danger and putting on their lifejackets.”

The Coast Guard is asking all boaters and paddlers to maximize their safety efforts and be alert on the water.

The Coast Guard 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.
  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket and set the example for your passengers or paddling partners. Reflective tape and a strobe light on your life jacket increase your chances of being detected in the water at night.
  • Be prepared for the shock of sudden immersion and the disabling effects of cold water. Plan for the worst by dressing as though you are going to get wet and be cold. Wet suits and dry suits increase survivability in cold water temperatures.
  • Carry a VHF radio and other reliable means of communication.
  • Write your name and contact information on paddle craft.
  • Practice prudent seamanship – boaters should not exceed their own ability.
  • Be responsible. Know that alcohol and drugs cause accidents and sometimes death.
  • Take a Coast Guard approved boater education course.

The recent fatalities of two kayakers off the coast of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, on May 17, 2010, reminds mariners to assess risks before going out and be prepared for what can go wrong. Although, the victims wore lifejackets and told someone where they were going and when they were coming back, their survivability in the 48-degree ocean water may have been increased with wet or dry suits and some way to call for help.

The Coast Guard encourages mariners to carry a VHF marine radio on their vessel, including paddle craft. While cell phones can be useful, they can frequently lose coverage. A VHF radio broadcasts even when cell phones are out of range.

The five most important pieces of information to communicate during a distress call are the vessel’s position, the number of people onboard the vessel, the nature of distress, a description of the vessel and whether or not lifejackets or survival suits are available and being worn.

Coast Guard Sector Northern New England is also currently testing and using a new VHF communications system called Rescue 21. Rescue 21 uses direction finding equipment to help find mariners in distress and help identify suspected hoax callers. Coast Guard Sector Northern New England is expected to fully accept the system Fall of 2010. A fact sheet on the overall Rescue 21 system’s capabilities can be found at: http://www.uscg.mil/acquisition/programs/pdf/r21factsheet.pdf.

“We don’t want to keep people from enjoying the water this summer, we just want them to be fully aware of the potential for things to go wrong and to be prepared for the worst-case scenario,” said Capt. Jim McPherson, the commander of Sector Northern New England. “Boaters can be deceived by the warm air temperatures. Colder water temperatures in the northeast and can decrease their chances of survival dramatically if boaters find themselves in the water.”

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