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Put safety first on the water

July 12, 2012
The Herald-Star

The recent heat wave had a lot of people heading to area lakes and rivers looking for ways to cool off. Many of those people relied upon a boat for a relaxing day on the water.

But boating can be dangerous if proper precautions aren't followed.

Boating fatalities jumped 12.8 percent in 2011 and are now at the highest level since 1998, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics.

Last year, 533 of the 758 boating fatalities resulted from drowning, with 84 percent of the drowning victims 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.

Accidents on and around the water can happen very quickly and rarely leave enough time 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.

Not paying attention can be dangerous for you and your boat. More accidents were caused by operator inattention than any other factor in the past several years, with collisions being the most common type of accident. An overwhelming number of accidents occurred while cruising and changing speed and/or direction.

Having an inexperienced operator at the helm tied with machinery failure as the second most common cause of accidents.

Safety courses are a must for individuals who plan to spend time on the water, whether they are a beginner or not. The courses offer information that has been proven to save lives.

Another factor that must not be overlooked is alcohol. It has no place in safe boating. Impaired boaters are as much a danger on the water as they are on city streets. Sadly, alcohol is a factor in many serious boating accidents.

By taking some simple precautions, the remainder of the summer boating season can be safe and pleasurable.

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