SAN DIEGO — With summer right around the corner, boating season is back in full swing.
But given the melt from this winter’s historic snowpack, the California Department of Parks and Recreation is kicking it off with a week dedicated to safety while out on the water.
This week marks National Safe Boating Week, an awareness campaign by the state department in partnership with the National Safe Boating Council aimed at encouraging boat enthusiasts to brush up on safety skills and prepare for the upcoming season.
This year is particularly important for anyone hitting the water to be safe while doing so, as the snow melt from this year’s historic snowpack poses additional safety risk to boaters with high, fast waters and debris flow.
Wearing life jackets on recreational boats is one of the most important ways to stay safe while on the water, providing a critical safeguard to prevent drowning in the case of an accident.
Drowning was the reported cause of death in four out of every five recreational boating fatalities in 2021, according to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard. About 83% of those who drowned were reportedly not wearing life jackets.
“It is crucial that life jackets are worn at all times while boating,” said the State Parks’ Division of Boating and Waterways Deputy Director Ramona Fernandez. “Just like you wear your seatbelt in the car, wearing a life jacket while boating is one layer of prevention to avoid unnecessary tragedy.”
There are many options for boaters when it comes to selecting a life jacket, including inflatable ones and lightweight styles.
“The best life jacket is the one you will wear,” said Peg Phillips, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council. “Whether you’re going fishing or just enjoying a ride on the boat, make sure you’re prepared for the adventure by wearing a life jacket and knowing how to use required safety gear.”
Whatever type of life jacket you decide to use, make sure that it is U.S. Coast Guard approved, appropriate for your intended water activity, fits properly and is in good condition.
For any boaters who might not have life jackets, the Division of Boating and Waterways offers a loaner program, with more than 100 stations throughout the state where jackets can be borrowed from. More information on the program can be found here.
The National Safe Boating Council also encourages boaters follow these safety tips when hitting the water this summer:
- Take a boating safety course to know what to do in the event of an emergency.
- Check equipment regularly to make sure all essential equipment is in good condition, either on your own or through a free vessel safety check with your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons.
- Make a float plan — let someone on shore know your trip itinerary, passenger information, boat type, registration and information on communication equipment before you leave the dock.
- Use an engine cut-off switch to stop a powerboat engine should the operator unexpectedly fall overboard.
- Watch the weather and water conditions before embarking on and during your excursion.
- Know what’s going on around you at all times and know where you’re going.
- Travel at safe speeds — be familiar with the area, as well as local boating speeds to avoid a potential accident.
- Never boat under the influence. BUIs account for one-third of all recreational boating fatalities, according to the National Safe Boating Council.
- Keep in touch with an on shore contact that works when wet. Things like VHF radios, emergency locator beacons, satellite phones and cell phones are good devices to have in an emergency.