2008-10-30 / News

Winter boating fatalities can be prevented

The Coast Guard is cautioning New England boaters, paddlers, sailors, fisherman and hunters to be mindful of the dangers of this season's colder air and water temperatures.

The First Coast Guard District reported the loss of 58 recreational boaters and paddlers in the Northeast in 2007 and October, November, and December are the months with the highest percentages of fatal maritime accidents.

"The important thing for people on the water to do this time of year is fully assess the risks," said Al Johnson, the recreational boating specialist for the First Coast Guard District, in Boston.

Johnson urges boaters to follow these safety rules:

• Leave a float plan with a responsible individual who knows your intentions, location, and who they should call if you do not return as scheduled.

• Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket and set the example for your passengers or paddling partners.

• Carry a VHF radio and other reliable means of communication.

• Be prepared for the shock of sudden immersion and the disabling effects of cold water. Plan for the worst: dress as though you are going to get wet and be cold.

• Maintain situational awareness on the water - be aware of activity around your vessel, including changing weather, and always know your location.

• Be responsible - Know that alcohol and drugs cause accidents and sometimes death.

Johnson recommends that boaters and paddlers use the fall and winter season to take a boating safety course through their respective state, Coast Guard Auxiliary, or Power Squadrons, and recommends they research and understand the hazards of sudden immersion in cold water.

"I wish I could say it in gentler terms," said Johnson, "but, plain and simple, cold water shocks, incapacitates and kills. Northern waters show no mercy to the innocent, unsuspecting or unprepared boater or paddler," he said.

He said the Coast Guard wants people to go out and enjoy being on the water, but that they should only do so safely and responsibly.

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