Put safety first when going out on the water

With summer in full swing, many people are taking a boat to the river or lake to enjoy a day on the water.

But that relaxing day can turn tragic if the principles of safe boating aren’t remembered.

In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,463 accidents involving 701 deaths, 2,903 injuries and $49 million in damage as a result of recreational boating accidents.

About 80 percent of boating fatalities involved drowning and 83 percent of those people who died were not wearing a life jacket, according to the Coast Guard.

The most important safety item on a boat is the 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 lightweight 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 beginning and veteran boaters. Where instruction was known, 77 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction.

Natural resource officers are promoting the idea of sober skippers, a nautical version of the designated driver.

The Coast Guard reported alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2016 — listed as the leading factor in 15 percent of fatal accidents.

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

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