Coast Guard Stresses Safety for Holiday Weekend Boaters

BOSTON – National Safe Boating Week, which commenced May 19 and runs 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, springtime exuberance, inexperience, overconfidence, celebration, alcohol and small mistakes can easily overtake the basic rules of safety and common sense.

Since 1998, 22 recreational boaters and paddlers have perished over the Memorial Day weekend in the Northeast.

“Of those deaths, motorboat accidents, including one personal watercraft, accounted for 13 of the victims, while canoe accidents claimed seven lives and kayak accidents took two lives,” reports Al Johnson, the First Coast Guard District’s recreational boating safety specialist.

Johnson also noted that alcohol was a factor in nine of the 22 fatalities, and of the nine, five involved canoeists, none of whom were wearing life jackets.

“Some infrequent or inexperienced boaters and paddlers can easily overestimate their ability,” said Johnson. “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. Ten, or 45%, of Memorial Day weekend fatalities ranged from 19 to 24 years of age.”

Johnson said he takes particular umbrage with the lackadaisical attitude of many boaters and paddlers who 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!” It’s the perfect message for Memorial Day and beyond, Johnson continues.

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

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

The Coast Guard is asking boaters and paddlers to do five things this holiday weekend 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 http://www.vesselsafetycheck.org/.
2. Always file a float plan with a responsible individual who knows where you’re going, when you’ll return and what to do if you don’t.
3. Strive to be a responsible and prudent mariner by boating and paddling safe and sober. Save the alcohol until you’re safely ashore.
4. Wear your life jacket. There are styles to fit every boater and paddlers’ need, and remember, when you need your life jacket, you need it on.
5. Take America’s Boating Course by calling 1-800-BOAT-ABC or by visiting http://www.americasboatingcourse.com/.

Johnson also recommends, with Father’s Day fast approaching, 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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