Contact: Senior Cpl. Carl Winckoski, Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife Enforcement, 302-739- 9913, or Joanna Wilson, Public Affairs, 302-739-9902.
DNREC’s Office of Boating Safety and Education
encourages safe boating practices over holiday weekend
DOVER (July 3, 2014) – With many boaters heading out on the water for the long Fourth of July weekend, DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Enforcement Section, Office of Boating Safety and Education reminds and encourages them to practice safe boating on Delaware waterways. “Though some accidents are unavoidable, we need everyone on our waterways to be alert, use common sense and avoid actions that will put themselves, their passengers and other boaters at risk,” said Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Chief Robert Legates.
Recent statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard show the top five primary contributing factors for boating accidents are operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and mechanical failure. With these factors in mind, Sr. Cpl. Carl Winckoski, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement/Office of Boating Safety and Education, offered some tips to keep in mind for safe boating:
- Safety-check your vessel and equipment before getting underway.
Preparations for putting your boat in the water each season should begin with servicing its engine to ensure it is in good operating condition. Before heading out, always check engine oil levels and make sure you have enough gasoline in your tank, as well as making sure all navigational lights are working.
“Unexpected engine failure or running out of gas can strand you and your passengers – and this rarely happens at a convenient time or place,” Winckoski said. “Add nightfall, an approaching summer storm, rough seas or other hazards, and you place yourself and your passengers in danger.”
Additional items to check include the appropriate number of life jackets and a fully-charged cell phone and/or marine radio, as well as the following required safety equipment: flares, a whistle or sound-producing device, and a fire extinguisher.
Nationally, approximately 500 people drown each year from recreational boating accidents. According to U.S. Coast Guard data from 2012, nearly three-quarters of all boating fatalities nationwide were drowning victims – and more than 80 percent of them were not wearing life jackets.
“Like seatbelts in automobiles, we know without question that life jackets save lives. Delaware law requires that children age 12 and younger wear a life jacket while underway in any vessel on Delaware waters,” Winckoski said, noting that no children have died as a result of drowning in Delaware since this law was passed in 1991.
“Though life jackets are not legally required for adults, they should also wear them, especially anyone with limited swimming skills,” Winckoski continued. “Boating accidents can happen very fast – and there’s no time to reach for a stowed life jacket and put it on.”
- While operating a vessel, stay alert and keep a sharp lookout.
When operating an automobile, safe driving includes keeping your eyes on the road and avoiding distractions that take your attention elsewhere as much as possible.
“The same applies to operating a vessel,” Winckoski said. “At all times, boaters need to watch where they are going, looking for other vessels and anything in the water that poses a hazard or directs vessels around or away from some areas.”
Things to look out for include swimmers, water skiers and smaller vessels such as kayaks or jet skis, floating hazards such as large branches or logs in the water, shallow areas where your vessel can become grounded, and directional channel markers or other signage.
As with land vehicles, boaters need to remember that the faster you drive your boat, the more you reduce your reaction time and increase your chances of being involved in an accident.
“Operating a vessel at excessive speed poses a hazard to you and your passengers as well as everyone else on the water with you, especially in areas with a lot of boat traffic – a common occurrence on popular waterways, especially during busy summer holiday weekends,” Winckoski said.
Boaters should take particular care to observe posted slow-no wake areas, Winckoski added.
According to Coast Guard statistics, alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents and was listed as the leading factor in 17 percent of the 651 boating-related fatalities reported nationwide in 2012.
“Drinking while boating is a choice. The best way to minimize the risk of an accident is to make the wise choice – don’t drink and boat,” said Winckoski, noting that boaters should plan ahead to have a non-drinking designated boat operator aboard if alcohol is being consumed.
While it is not illegal for recreational boat operators to consume alcohol, the same blood alcohol limit used to measure intoxication in automobile drivers applies to boat operators: 0.08 or above is legally intoxicated. Winckoski also noted that boat operators above the limit put themselves and their passengers at risk, and those found so operating face fines and potential jail time.
Delaware’s emphasis on boating safety education
Taking a boating safety course to improve your skills can help reduce the chances of an accident. Coast Guard statistics show that in states where instructional data was available, 85 percent of reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
“Last year, we had no boating-related fatalities and eight reportable boating accidents. We’d like to see the number of accidents go down,” Chief Legates said, noting that to date this year, Delaware has had five reported boating accidents and one fatality.
Under Delaware law, all persons born on or after Jan. 1, 1978 must successfully complete a boating safety course in order to operate a boat in Delaware waters, including personal watercraft. “We recommend that everyone who is going to operate a boat in Delaware waters take a safety course first, regardless of their age,” Winckoski said.
Delaware’s 8-hour basic boating safety course, which fulfills Delaware’s mandatory boating safety class requirement, is offered in multiple locations statewide in one to four sessions. An online version of the course also is offered. Upon completing the course, boaters receive a boating safety certificate, which they should carry with them while boating as proof of course completion. In-classroom class costs range from $10 to $30.
For more information, including the boating safety class schedule, access to the online Delaware Boating Handbook and other boating information, please click Delaware Boating Safety, or contact Sr. Cpl. Carl Winckoski at 302-739-9913 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Vol. 44, No. 232