Coast Guard launches Operation Paddle Smart 2009

BOSTON – The United States Coast Guard, for the second year in a row, is launching Operation Paddle Smart to bring greater awareness to paddlesport safety in the Northeast First Coast Guard District.

The district suffered the loss of 58 recreational boaters and paddlers in 2007, of which 15 canoe and eight kayak fatalities accounted for 40 percent of the total.

Historically, with the area’s long-standing interest in canoeing and the continuing growth in both inland and coastal kayaking, Northeast paddlesport fatalities are more than double the national average.

As a result, last year the Coast Guard partnered with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons to generate greater safety awareness among paddlers and small boaters and launched Operation Paddle Smart. While the operation officially ran from May 1 to June 30, safety material, information, and advice were dispensed throughout the year.

Notably, while overall recreational boating and paddling fatalities declined from 58 in 2007 to 55 in 2008, paddlesport fatalities declined from 23 to 14 – a 39 percent reduction.

“Multiple factors affect boating statistics from year to year,” said Cmdr. Peter Nourse, director of the First Coast Guard District’s Northern Region Auxiliary. “Though we are unable to conclude quantitatively the full impact of Operation Paddle Smart last year, we do know that it had a very positive, direct affect toward the decrease in paddle craft fatalities. As a result, given this significant improvement, we are institutionalizing this yearly operation to see if we can continue to reduce the total number of paddlesport fatalities.”

This year Operation Paddle Smart will run from April 1 to November 1, and will once again be a focal point for boating and paddling organizations, retailers, and others to work together to promote paddlesport safety, as well as being an information source for all paddlers and small boaters.

“Our goals are two-fold,” said Bob Sweet of the Buzzards Bay Sail and Power Squadron and USPS National Education Officer. “First, we want boaters and paddlers to be aware and prepared for what can go wrong on the water. Second, we want to promote the life-saving benefit of wearing a life jacket, to highlight the immediate danger of sudden cold water immersion, to encourage boater and paddler education, and to stress the importance of being a responsible and prudent mariner. The important thing is that working together we’ve made a difference that has ultimately resulted in saving lives.”

Auxiliary and Power Squadron members, over the next few months, will distribute paddlesport safety packets throughout the Northeast. Data will also be collected to determine what efforts worked best and to solicit response, questions and information from paddlers on how the operation can be improved or how it has benefited them.

“Operation Paddle Smart is a multi-partnered effort to educate and remind new, casual, and experienced paddlers to assess the risks, envision the consequences and be properly prepared for what can and sometimes does go wrong,” said Commodore Renelle LeBlanc of the Coast Guard Auxiliary Northern Region. “We want all boaters and paddlers to enjoy their time on the water and, most importantly, return home safely.”

Commodore LeBlanc also noted that Paddle Smart information is included in all Auxiliary public education courses and numerous events have been held to demonstrate the proper handling of canoes and kayaks.

Additionally, paddlers on the waters of Massachusetts are required to wear a life jacket while underway through May 15; in Connecticut through May 30 and in Maine on the Saco River below the Hiram Dam through June.

If you have any problems viewing this article, please report it here.