Recent rescues highlight need for boating safety

HOUSTON – Over the past five days, Texas-area Coast Guard units have responded to seven rescue calls from boaters in distress, affecting 27 people.

The wave of rescue calls started with two fishermen lost in the waters off Freeport, Texas, May 16. A family member reported them overdue from a fishing trip that started the day before. Coast Guard crews scoured more than 2,000 miles of ocean in helicopters, jets, patrol boatsand small boats searching for the pair. One man was able to swim to a nearby oil rig and call the Coast Guard for help. A few hours later, the second man was rescued by a Coast Guard patrol boat. The men’s survival was partly attributed to the fact they were wearing lifejackets.

On May 19, a 32-foot recreational boat with seven people onboard, including a 7-year-old boy, started sinking 15 miles off Galveston, Texas. By being prepared and equipped with safety gear, the owner of the vessel shot off a flare and raised a distress flag. Workers on a nearby oil rig spotted the flare and called the Coast Guard to help. Crews from Station Galveston were able to save the sinking boat and the people onboard, and towed the boat back to shore. All seven people onboard the boat were wearing lifejackets.

With the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the Coast Guard reminds boaters to always wear their lifejackets and to ensure that all required safety equipment is onboard their vessel and in good, working order.

Ninety percent of boaters who drowned in 2005 were not wearing life jackets. The National Safe Boating Campaign hopes to reverse this trend by raising boater awareness of advances in modern life jackets.

The Coast Guard mandates that all boaters must have onboard their vessels:

* the correct number and type of lifejackets
* a working fire extinguisher
* working or unexpired visual distress signals (flare/flag)
* working audible distress signals (horn and/or whistle)
* working navigation lights

To enjoy a safe day on the water, boaters and paddlers should also:

* wear Coast Guard approved lifejackets
* be aware of weather and water conditions
* never boat or paddle alone
* file a float plan to let others know where you are going, and make sure they know what to do and who to call in case of an emergency.
* know that alcohol and drugs contribute to accidents
* be constantly aware of other vessels in the immediate area
* be cautious – do not exceed your ability to handle your vessel
* carry a VHF radio – these radios allow for any boater in your vicinity to hear your call and the signal can be easily traced by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard strongly recommends that all boaters and paddlers take every opportunity to take a recreational boating safety course to enhance their navigational skills. Courses are offered through their respective state, with the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadrons, both of which can be accessed through http://uscgaux.org/ or http://usps.org/ . Additional course information is available through the BOAT/U.S. foundation at 1-800-336-BOAT.

For additional safe boating tips, boaters can access the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Web site.

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