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Two factors key to boat safety: Control alcohol, wear PFDs

Sheriff’s deputies around the region will be enforcing boating safety regulations this holiday weekend. (Jesse Tinsley)
Sheriff’s deputies around the region will be enforcing boating safety regulations this holiday weekend. (Jesse Tinsley)

Memorial Day weekend, usually considered the start of recreational boating season, often is a standout weekend for boating accidents.

No states in the Northwest are in the nation’s top 10 states for boating accidents or deaths.

But the region has its share.

In 2009, there were 4,730 recreational boating accidents reported in the United States, with one fatality per 5.8 registered vessels. The same year, there was one fatality per 7.6 U.S. vehicles – automobiles and motorcycles.

Why should recreational boats be more dangerous than automobiles?

There are several reasons. One is education.

Most boaters don’t have any. Washington is trying to address that with a requirement that eventually will require every state resident boat operator to have passed a boater safety course.

This year the requirement applies to all resident boat operators age 40 and younger.

Next year it will apply to operators age 50 and younger.

Anyone can take a boating safety course at any age, and it’s a good idea to do so.

Alcohol use is another reason boating is dangerous. On highways, most drunk drivers are out late at night.

Operate a boat on any popular area lake at 3 p.m. on a hot Saturday afternoon and you can be assured that an unfortunate percentage of the boats around you will have a cooler of icy beer. As a hot-weather, party-atmosphere form of recreation, boaters seem to have the mistaken idea that drinking and boating are a good match.

Alcohol use is a leading factor in fatal boating accidents. At the very least, boaters who intend to drink should have a designated operator. Sun, wave action and fatigue combine to magnify the effect of alcohol.

Operating a boat under the influence is just as serious a crime as DUI. Since most boats are trailer boats, a BUI becomes a DUI when the boat is hauled from the water and the boater heads home.

Life jackets are another major factor in boating accidents. It’s the boating equivalent of an automobile seat belt. Nowadays, life jackets are called Personal Flotation Devices or PFDs for short. Whatever you call it, a good one will keep you from drowning if you go into the water for any reason.

Sheriff’s marine patrol officers rarely have to cut a corpse out of a PFD.

Laws require a life jacket to be on hand for everyone aboard a boat. Children are required to be wearing life jackets when a boat is moving. Smart adults wear them, too.