Coast Guard reports decrease in Northeast boating fatalities in 2009

BOSTON — Recreational boating and paddling fatalities on waters of the Northeast’s First Coast Guard District have decreased for the second year in a row.

The First Coast Guard District recorded a preliminary total of 50 deaths during 2009. There were 55 fatalities in 2008 and 58 fatalities in 2007. Capsizing or falling overboard while not wearing a life jacket was the main factor.

Similar to past years, fatalities were evenly divided between motorized and non-motorized vessels with 25 deaths in each category. Twelve canoe and five kayak fatalities accounted for 34 percent of total fatalities.

Due to the tremendous growth in kayaking over the past decade and the long-standing interest in canoeing, Northeast paddlesport fatalities are typically double the national average.

“Looking back to last year and as we do every year, our primary message is simply wear your life jacket,” said Al Johnson, the recreational boating specialist for First Coast Guard District. “Whether you listen to the Coast Guard, our state partners, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons or other boating and paddling safety organizations, the message is the same – wear your life jacket.”

Johnson said more likely than not, wearing a life jacket could’ve made a difference for the majority of this past year’s boating and paddling fatalities.

“As I always say,” said Johnson, “a life jacket isn’t guaranteed to save your life but it does guarantee a better chance to survive. And, realistically speaking, if you aren’t prepared for what can go wrong on the water and practice proper procedure, if you’re called upon to save yourself or render aid to others, it can easily be with great difficulty or tragic consequence. Plain and simple – a life jacket can make a difference.”

With boaters and paddlers need to be properly prepared and attired for sudden coldwater immersion, said Johnson.

“Cold water kills,” Johnson said. “Regardless of the activity, with water temperatures between 40-degrees and frozen, it is imperative to dress to get wet. If you’re not wearing a dry suit or a wet suit and a Coast Guard approved life jacket, you shouldn’t be on the water.”

Over the past several days, three duck hunters capsized in New Hampshire, two capsized in Connecticut and a southern New York man capsized a canoe while attempting to rescue a dog – fortunately, all survived, Johnson said.

Johnson reminds paddlers that life jacket wear is mandatory on Massachusetts and Connecticut waters through mid-May, in Maine on the Saco River between the Hiram Dam and the ocean through June 1st and in New York on all vessels under 21-feet through May 1st.

Johnson recommends that boaters and paddlers who have not yet taken an approved boater education course to utilize the winter months to do so. Courses are available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons or with state, private or Internet providers. Additional course information can be found at the following websites or by calling the BoatUS course line at 1-800-336-BOAT:

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