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Be safe on the water

The warmer temperatures and abundant sunshine we have been experiencing across the Tri-State Area means area residents again are turning to the outdoors for recreation.

Among the most popular activities during the summer months are boating and fishing. Both are fun ways to spend an afternoon, but both can lead to tragedy if proper precautions are not taken.

Lives are lost every year on waterways in our region, many because people take unnecessary risks or fail to follow safety procedures.

According to the Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Safety Statistics Report, there were 767 boating fatalities in 2020, a 25.1 percent increase from 2019. The total number of accidents increased from 4,168 in 2019 to 5,265 last year, a rise of 26.3 percent, and the number of nonfatal injuries grew from 2,559 in 2019 to 3,191 last year, an increase of 24.7 percent.

The Coast Guard reports that in 2020, Ohio saw 163 boating accidents, 25 fatalities and 84 persons injured. In Pennsylvania, there were 58 accidents, 11 fatalities and 37 people injured. And, in West Virginia, there were 16 reported accidents, five fatalities and 14 people injured.

Whether it’s on a lake, a stream, a pond or the Ohio River, a few common-sense precautions can save lives and make the outdoor experience safer for everyone.

Safety starts with personal flotation devices. Sadly, research indicates that many of the drownings that are reported each year could have been prevented if the person involved had been properly wearing such a device.

It is the responsibility of boat operators to make sure there is at least one flotation device for each passenger and to make sure the devices are worn at all times. Parents or another responsible adult must take special care to ensure that the devices are properly fitted for children.

Accidents on and around the water can happen very quickly and rarely leave enough time for a person without a flotation device to properly put one on. A good safety rule for boaters is to wear a flotation device at all times, not just when the boat is in motion.

Those who enjoy fishing should wear their vests at all times. Many anglers will wear the devices until they reach their fishing spot and then remove them, a choice which can be dangerous. Remember, you can be thrown from a boat by rough water.

Vests save lives — according to the Coast Guard report, 75 percent of the victims in fatal boating accidents drowned, and 86 percent of those victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Safety courses are a must for individuals who plan to spend time on the water. They offer information that has been proven to save lives. In fact, the report indicates that 77 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received proper instruction.

Another factor that must not be overlooked is alcohol. It has no place in safe boating. Impaired boaters are as much a danger on the water as they are on city streets. Sadly, it is a factor in many serious boating accidents — the Coast Guard reports that in 2020 alcohol use was a contributing factor in 296 accidents, which resulted in 115 deaths and 260 injuries. In Ohio, alcohol was a factor in 12 accidents, nine deaths and nine injuries; in Pennsylvania, it was a factor in three accidents, two deaths and no injuries; and in West Virginia, it was a factor in two accidents, one death and no injuries.

The top five primary factors in accidents, the Coast Guard said, included operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed and machinery failure. The types of vessels that were involved in the highest percent of deaths were open motor boats, 50 percent; kayaks, 15 percent; and pontoons, 9 percent.

Any watercraft with a motor needs to have an engine cut-off device. When properly installed and used, the device will shut the engine down if the operator or passenger should fall overboard. Remember, also, that gasoline engines on boats produce carbon monoxide, which can affect persons swimming at the rear of the vessel and those sitting along the platform.

And, if you are using a paddleboard or similar device, remember to always make sure the safety leash is properly attached to your ankle or calf.

A positive attitude toward safety is a must for boaters and anglers, and by taking some simple precautions, the recreation season can be safe and pleasurable for all residents of the Tri-State Area.

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