If the unexpected happens out on the water, something as simple as a life jacket becomes the most valuable companion a boater can have.
The bottom line for National Safe Boating Week, which starts on Saturday with a variety of events around Ohio and Michigan, is: wear a life jacket. According to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, 70 percent of the fatalities in boating accidents are from the victims drowning, and in 84 percent of those cases, these victims were not wearing a life jacket.
"In most of the drowning accidents in the United States, people have life jackets on-board their boats, but they just aren't wearing them," said Sgt. Al Bavarskas, the marine safety specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Life jackets must be Coast Guard-approved, must be in good and serviceable condition and properly fitted to the person wearing it."
Ohio DNR officials hope to drive home that point with their ‘Ready, Set, Wear It!’ life jacket safety awareness events on Saturday.
“Life jackets save lives,” ODNR director James Zehringer said. “Keeping people safe on the water is the reason we encourage everyone to participate in the ‘Ready, Set, Wear It!’ safety awareness events.”
The Maritime Academy of Toledo will host one such event as part of its day-long ‘Take Me Boating Toledo-Wear It Ohio!’ celebration on Saturday. The school, located at 803 Water St., will have boating related activities taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Participants who understand the importance of life jackets in saving lives are urged to attend and bring a life jacket. A limited number of life jackets will be available for those who do not have one. After registration, a group photo will be taken to record the number of life-jacketed individuals, and an official head count taken. Last year’s “Take Me Boating Toledo” event had 108 official participants, third-highest in the state.
Members of the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will be on hand to assist with the event, answer questions, and provide boating safety instruction. Proper boating safety is a constantly evolving issue.
“The needs of the recreational boater have changed significantly over the years, so our mission to educate them has also changed,” said Cathie Slabaugh, president of the Western Lake Erie Safe Boating Council and a commander with the USCG Auxiliary.
“One of the fastest growing segments of recreational boating in Ohio is kayaking, especially among young women and Hispanics.”
Saturday’s session at the Maritime Academy will include a canoe/kayaking safety demonstration by members of the Northwest Ohio River Runners club.
“We are seeing a resurgence of people exploring the fun nautical recreational activities available in our area,” Slabaugh said. “Take Me Boating Toledo” shows everyone the valuable resources available to help them enjoy our area waterways safely.”
While all aspects of safe boating will be stressed during the week-long national event, the critical importance of life jackets will be the primary point of emphasis.
A recently released report by the JSI Research & Training Institute in Boston showed that life jacket usage among boaters was at just 22.6 percent in 2012. When personal watercraft are removed from the data, the life jacket usage rate by boaters drops to just 18.2 percent.
"Every study shows that using life jackets saves lives," said Lt. Andrew Turner, the boating law administrator for the Michigan DNR. "Life jackets have been redesigned in recent years so that they come in styles that are comfortable and easy to wear. Having a life jacket on prevents the search for one during a boating emergency."
Boaters also are urged to make certain their craft is properly outfitted with safety equipment, and that all the equipment is in good working order. In addition to life jackets, boaters must have fire extinguishers on board, and should never leave the dock without a first-aid kit, nautical charts and an anchor. A check of the navigation lights also is recommended.
Alcohol consumption is never a good mix with boating, as close to half of all boating accidents involve boaters who have been drinking. Passengers who have been drinking also are at a much higher risk of falling overboard.
Boaters should always file a float plan so that family and friends know who was on-board, what your intended destination was, and what the expected duration of the outing would be. Always include the phone numbers for the Coast Guard and the local sheriff’s office, in the event you do not return when scheduled.
Most boaters carry cell phones, but having a marine radio on your craft is a very good idea, since there are sometimes gaps in the coverage areas for cell phones out on the water.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.