Contact: Sgt. 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 21-27 in Lewes
Delaware’s Boating Safety Office urges good safety practices
DOVER (May 20, 2016) – With the 2016 summer season making its debut next weekend and plenty of good weather on the horizon, 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 U.S. Senator Tom Carper, State Senator Ernie Lopez, State Representative Harvey Kenton, State Representative Rich Collins, 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 the Division’s Lewes Public Boat Ramp.
“Boating is popular in coastal Delaware with both residents and many of our seasonal visitors,” said Senator Carper. “Boating is fun, but it’s also serious business. That’s why, for more than 40 years, the federal government has provided grant support for boater safety and education programs, and Delaware mandates boater safety classes and lifejacket use for children. Through this partnership Delaware has been able to achieve one of the best boater safety records in the nation.”
“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 25 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 five 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 2015, 425 people drowned in recreational boating accidents nationwide. Three-quarters of all boating-related fatalities nationwide were drowning victims, and 352 – more than 80 percent – were not wearing life jackets.
“Boating accidents can happen very fast – and there’s no time to reach for a stowed lifejacket and put it on. Like seatbelts in automobiles, we know without question that lifejackets save lives,” said Sgt. John McDerby, Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police boating safety coordinator. “Today’s lifejackets 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 lifejacket while underway in any vessel on Delaware waters,” McDerby said. “Though lifejackets 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, operator inexperience, improper lookout, mechanical failure and excessive speed. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents and was listed as the leading factor in 17 percent of the 626 boating-related fatalities reported nationwide in 2015.
“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 course schedule, access to the online Delaware Boating Handbook and other boating information, please click Delaware Boating Safety, or contact Boating Safety Coordinator Sgt. 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, 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 http://de.gov/ogt.
Follow the Division of Fish & Wildlife on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DelawareFishWildlife.
Vol. 46, No. 180