Surge in recent deaths, holiday weekend: Coast Guard urges safety

BOSTON – With the deaths of six people since Monday in Northeast waters, the Coast Guard is urging everyone on the water to be especially cautious during the upcoming holiday weekend.

In the past five years the First District, which stretches along the coast from Maine to northern New Jersey and eastern New York and also includes Lake Champlain, Vt., has suffered the loss of 592 swimmers and boaters. Thirty-two of those deaths have occurred since January 2010.

“Six maritime deaths in the past few days and 32 deaths already this year is unusually high,” said Patrick Petrarca, a search and rescue controller at the First District. “We can’t speculate on why the number is so high, but we do know it’s not a good pattern to see, especially heading into a weekend historically known for heavy recreational activity on the water.”

The holiday atmosphere, warm weather, inexperience, overconfidence, alcohol and cold water have historically combined to cause many people to ignore basic rules of sense and safety.

“We want everyone to enjoy spending time on the water, especially now that the weather is getting warmer,” said Al Johnson, the First Coast Guard District’s recreational boating safety specialist, “but the sudden shock of cold water can still instantly immobilize the most competent swimmer, making a life jacket essential for survival. Know the risks and be prepared.”

The Coast Guard is asking everyone on the water to focus on the following safety precautions:

  1. Wear your life jacket. Remember: when you need your life jacket, you need it on.
  2. Be responsible by staying safe and sober.  Save the alcohol until you’re safely ashore.
  3. Know how to call for help on channel 16 with a VHF marine radio. For more information on distress calls, go to: http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/marcomms/boater.htm.
  4. 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 return on time.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings such as weather, changing tides and the potential for rip currents. For more information on rip currents, go to: http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/. For rip current safety tips go to: http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/tips.shtml.
  6. Inland and coastal waters are extremely cold and paddlers should dress for immersion by wearing either a wet or dry suit.
  7. In addition to wearing a life jacket, paddle sport enthusiasts should also mark their kayak or canoe with identifying information, carry a waterproof, handheld VHF radio and consider wearing a personal electronic position indicating radio beacon.
  8. Take advantage of a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Power Squadrons and Coast Guard Auxiliary by visiting the vessel safety check website at www.vesselsafetycheck.org.

“We hope that everyone practices safety while on the water and has a fun, safe Memorial Day weekend,” Petrarca said.

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