Ninth fatality within 2 weeks provides stark reminder about boating and beach safety

5th Coast Guard District News
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – A recreational boating fatality in Ocean City, Md., on Saturday was the ninth death in two weeks in mid-Atlantic waters.

The frequency of these fatalities in such a short time span represents a grim start to the summer beach and boating season.

Though the locations and circumstances leading to these recent accidents vary, they all underscore two important lessons about enjoying time on or near the water: Always take the necessary precautions and exercise caution

“There is a certain element of risk when you go boating and there are inherent dangers to swimming in tidal waters,” said Dennis Sens, Coast Guard 5th District Recreational Boating Safety Specialist. “As more people consider heading to the water, they should also consider how to be safe on it.”

The recent spike in deaths began May 30 with the drowning of a 42-year-old man on the James River who jumped in the water from a sailboat. He was not wearing a life jacket. Neither were two other recent boating fatalities, including a Virginia sailor who drowned near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay while sailing alone on June 4 and Saturday’s death in Maryland, which occurred after the victim’s pleasure craft capsized at the mouth of Ocean City Inlet.

According to Coast Guard statistics, drownings like these were the cause of 75 percent of all boating deaths in 2010. Of those who drowned, 88 percent were not wearing life jackets.

Other deadly incidents in the last two weeks underscore the importance of boaters maintaining a keen awareness of environmental conditions and vessel traffic.

Two people were killed in a nighttime incident June 3 when their 25-foot speedboat struck a sea wall near Windmill Point on the Rappahannock River. Another accident claimed the life of a recreational fisherman on June 7 when his 15-foot boat capsized after a collision with a commercial fishing vessel on Virginia’s Elizabeth River.

“Just as you practice defensive driving on the road, you need to do so just as much, if not more, on the water,” explained Sens. “Be aware of your surroundings and react accordingly, especially at night, in bad weather, or when there are many more boaters on the water. It’s critical to be mindful of navigation.”

Sens added that boating safety classes teach such lessons, and that the Coast Guard Auxiliary offers free vessel safety checks to assess and help educate boaters on required safety equipment.

However, dangers in and around the water are not limited to boaters. In the last two weeks the Coast Guard responded to three separate incidents in which hazardous tides and currents played a deadly role. On May 31 a 9-year-old boy died after getting caught in a rip current at the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Rip currents also claimed the life of a 15-year-old swimmer at Bradley Beach, N.J., on June 9.

According to the United States Lifesaving Association, rip currents are responsible for more than 100 drownings every year in this country. Dangerous currents are not restricted to beaches, either. On June 8, a 47-year-old man and his young nephew were swept away by a fast current in the Chester River in Maryland. The boy was rescued, but his uncle drowned.

Again, said Sens, caution, knowledge and awareness can make the difference between life and death. Be careful of the dangers of swimming in tidal waters, especially if unfamiliar with them; learn the signs of rip currents; and know how to escape them: Stay calm, and rather than swim against the rip current, let it carry you out and then swim parallel to the shore and back in to safety.

Precautions such as these do not preclude having a good time. But since swimming and boating do come with risks, balance safety with fun and prevent the loss of an additional life this summer.

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