It’s no accident that National Safe Boating Week coincides with the beginning of boating and fishing seasons. During this year’s campaign, May 19 through 25, the Washington State Parks Boating Program will increase its emphasis on boating safety while encouraging people to have fun on Washington’s beautiful waters.
“Of course, we are concerned about boating safety all year long,” said Wade Alonzo, State Parks Boating Program Manager. “But we find that on-the-water accidents and fatalities increase as the weather warms up, and more people get out on the water.”
Why is boating safety so important? While boating accidents and fatalities are gradually decreasing, there is still room for improvement. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that human error accounts for 70 percent of all boating accidents, and wearing a life jacket could prevent more than 80 percent of boating fatalities. So far this year, five people have died in Washington state from boating-related accidents. Last year, 109 boating accidents were reported with 15 fatalities and 51 injuries. Of the 15 fatalities, 73 percent of victims were not wearing a life jacket.
National Safe Boating Week is coordinated each year by the National Safe Boating Council and its boating safety partners across the U.S. and Canada.
“Safe boating begins with preparation,” Alonzo added. “Through basic boating safety behaviors, boaters can help keep Washington’s coastal, inland and offshore waters safe for everyone.”
The Boating Program recommends the following safety tips for boaters:
Many recreational boaters in Washington are required to complete an approved boating safety education course and carry a Washington State Boater Education Card. Even if carrying a card is not required, the Boating Program recommends people take a boating safety course to increase their knowledge about boating safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. More information about boater education: www.boatered.org.
Always wear a life jacket
State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards, to have at least one properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard. And all children, age 12 and younger, are required to wear one at all times. The Boating Program encourages boaters to wear their life jackets every time they go out on the water. More about life jackets: www.wearitwashington.org.
Bring communication devices
Boaters should carry two forms of communication that will work when wet, such as a whistle, waterproof cell phone and/or VHF marine radio. Also recommended are flares, a signal mirror or air horn to aid emergency responders in search efforts. Boaters should also consider carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB). More on communications devices: http://bit.ly/boat_comm
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Boat owners and/or operators are responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone on board. Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, is not only unsafe—it’s illegal. The Boating Program recommends designating a sober skipper. Washington state’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law applies to all boats including kayaks, canoes, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts. More about boating sober: www.boatsober.org.
Check and understand the weather
Boaters should check the weather frequently before and during their boating excursion, keeping an eye on current conditions and forecasts. Boaters should be especially concerned with warnings, weather conditions, wind and wave forecasts and tide and current conditions. Learn more: http://bit.ly/boating_wx
Protect against cold-water shock
Falling into water under 60 degrees is dangerous, and many of Washington’s waters remain below 60 degrees all year – including lakes and rivers – even during hot weather. The biggest risk is not hypothermia, it is cold-water shock, which occurs in the first stage of immersion. Learn more: www.coldwatersafety.org.
Schedule a vessel safety check
Local marine law enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons have certified vessel examiners who will perform a free vessel safety check at no cost. Learn more and schedule a vessel safety check here: www.cgaux.org/vsc/.