Contact: Cpl. John McDerby, Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police, 302-739-9913 or 302-354-1386, or Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902.
DNREC kicks off National Safe Boating Week May 16-22 in Lewes
Delaware’s Boating Safety Office urges good safety practices
DOVER (May 15, 2015) – With the 2015 summer season making its debut this weekend and plenty of good weather ahead, many boaters will be heading out on the water. As they do, the DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Office of Boating Safety and Education encourages them to remember to practice safe boating, not just over Memorial Day weekend – but throughout the year.
This morning, DNREC Deputy Secretary Kara Coats, Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis and Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police officers joined State Sen. Ernie Lopez, Rep. Stephen Smyk and Rep. Dave Wilson, U.S. Coast Guard and USCG Auxiliary members, USCG Auxiliary volunteer boating safety instructors and volunteer boating safety instructors with the U.S. Power Squadron’s Nanticoke Sail & Power Squadron of Seaford, to officially kick off National Safe Boating Week at DNREC’s Division of Watershed Stewardship Lewes Facility adjoining the Lewes Public Boat Ramp.
“Delaware’s waterways are among the First State’s top tourism destinations, and we can be proud that our state consistently has one of the lowest boating accident rates in the country,” said Deputy Secretary Coats. “To keep these numbers low, we will diligently continue our efforts in boating safety education, outreach, and – as needed – enforcement of our boating rules and regulations.”
“Our boating safety education program, with the help of our dedicated volunteer instructors, plays a significant role in Delaware’s boating safety record,” said David Saveikis, director of DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife. “As a lifelong boater myself, I encourage boaters to learn the boating ‘rules of the road’ and to practice safe boating each and every time they head out to enjoy our beautiful waterways.”
While stressing the importance of boating education, Chief Robert Legates of the Division of Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police also encouraged boaters to be aware and alert on the water. “Last year, we had one boating-related fatality and 24 reportable boating accidents. We’d like to see the number of accidents go down,” Legates said, noting that to date this year, Delaware has had two reported boating accidents and no fatalities. “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.”
Statistics support the vital role of wearing life jackets in keeping boaters safe. According to U.S. Coast Guard national statistics from 2014, 418 people drowned in recreational boating accidents nationwide. Nearly three-quarters of all boating-related fatalities nationwide were drowning victims – and more than 80 percent of them were not wearing life jackets.
“Boating accidents can happen very fast – and there’s no time to reach for a stowed life jacket and put it on. Like seatbelts in automobiles, we know without question that life jackets save lives,” said Cpl. John McDerby, Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police boating safety coordinator. “Today’s life jackets are also more effective, comfortable and fashionable than in the past, so there’s simply no reason not to wear them.”
“In addition, Delaware law requires that children age 12 and younger wear a life jacket while underway in any vessel on Delaware waters,” McDerby said. “Though life jackets are not legally required for adults, they should also wear them, especially anyone with limited swimming skills.”
Recent statistics from the Coast Guard show the top five primary contributing factors for boating accidents are operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and mechanical failure. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents and was listed as the leading factor in 21 percent of the 610 boating-related fatalities reported nationwide in 2014.
“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 McDerby, 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. McDerby also noted that boat operators found to be at or over the limit face fines and potential jail time, as well as putting themselves and their passengers at risk.
Taking a boating safety course can also improve your skills and reduce the chances of an accident. Coast Guard statistics show that in states where instructional data was available, 80 percent of reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
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 whether or not they are required to do so,” McDerby said.
Delaware’s 8-hour basic boating safety course, which fulfills the state’s mandatory boating safety course requirement, is offered in multiple locations statewide in one to four sessions. Several providers also offer a Delaware-approved online version of the boating safety course. Upon completing the course, boaters receive a boating safety certificate, which, for individuals required to take the course, must be carried with them while boating as proof of course completion.
Courses cover the rules and regulations of Delaware’s waterways, including: appropriate speed limits; responsible boating skills and awareness; how to distinguish navigational aids and water depths; weather tips; information about basic engine mechanics; required and/or recommended safety equipment; what to do if a Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police officer stops your vessel, and the dangers of boating under the influence.
Delaware’s Office of Boating Safety and Education also provides volunteer instructors to private and non-profit organizations, schools, clubs and the general public to educate boaters on skills and seamanship, and to encourage them to be safe, knowledgeable and responsible.
For more information, including Delaware’s boating safety class schedule, access to the online Delaware Boating Handbook and other boating information, please click Delaware Boating Safety, or contact Boating Safety Coordinator Cpl. John McDerby at 302-739-9913 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife recognizes and thanks the majority of anglers, hunters and boaters who comply with and support Delaware’s fishing, hunting and boating laws and regulations. Citizens are encouraged to report fish and wildlife and boating violations to the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police by calling 302-739-4580. Wildlife violations may also be reported anonymously to Operation Game Theft by calling 800-292-3030 or online at www.dnrec.delaware.gov/fw/Hunting/Pages/OpGameTheft.aspx.
Vol. 45, No. 150