Think safety when you’re on the water

The summer is in full swing, and it is a good time to remember the principles of safe boating.

In 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,064 accidents involving 610 deaths, 2,678 injuries and $39 million dollars in damage as a result of recreational boating accidents.

In 2013, the Coast Guard counted 4,062 accidents involving 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries and approximately $39 million dollars of damage.

The 2014 numbers represent an increase of nearly 9 percent in fatalities and a more than 2 percent increase in injuries over 2013.

Probably the most important safety item on a boat is the life jacket.

The Coast Guard reported, where cause of death was known, 78 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

It is the responsibility of boat operators to make sure there is at least one life jacket for each passenger and to make sure the jackets are worn at all times.

Parents or another responsible adult must take special care to ensure that the devices are properly fitted for children.

Boating accidents on and around the water can happen very quickly and rarely leave enough time to put on a flotation device. A good safety rule for boaters is to wear a life jacket at all times, not just when the boat is in motion.

Also, those who enjoy fishing should wear their life vests at all times. Many anglers will wear the safety gear until they reach the fishing spot and then remove it – a choice which can be dangerous. One misstep and an angler can fall out of the boat or be thrown from a boat by rough water.

Improvements in the design of life jackets have allowed them to become light weight and more comfortable. They allow for the wide range of motion that is needed for fishing, skiing and other activities on the water.

Boating safety begins with a safety course. It is a good idea for both the beginner and for all boaters. Only 23 percent of deaths occurred on a boat where the operator received boating safety instruction and only 12 percent of deaths occurred where the boat operator received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.

Natural resource officers are promoting the idea of “sober skippers,” a nautical version of the designated driver. Alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2014 – listed as the leading factor in 21 percent of fatal accidents. The top five primary contributing factors also included improper lookout, operator inexperience, operator inattention and excessive speed.

The remainder of the summer boating season can be safe and pleasurable if boaters think safety first.