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CG: PFDs could have saved 416 lives

Agency report also shows alcohol was a factor in a third of boating fatalities

Agency report also shows alcohol was a factor in a third of boating fatalities

New statistics compiled by the Coast Guard confirm what the agency already knows: Life jackets save lives, and boating and alcohol don’t mix.

The report, released in December, indicates that 86 percent of all boaters who drowned in 2003 weren’t wearing life jackets, and that alcohol was a contributing factor in one third of all reported recreational-boating fatalities.

The good news is that boating fatalities were down 6 percent, continuing a 12-year downward trend (with increases reported only in 1995 and 2002). There were 703 fatalities and 3,888 injuries in 2003, compared to 750 deaths and 4,062 injuries the previous year, according to the report. Still, the Coast Guard urges people to boat safely.

“Boaters need to be responsible for the safety of themselves, their passengers and other boaters,” says Rear Admiral J.W. Underwood, director of the Coast Guard’s operations policy, in a statement. “This means not only having life jackets on board but requiring your passengers to wear them all the time. You never know when an accident will happen that will prevent you from reaching for and putting on that life jacket.”

More than 95 percent of boat owners report having enough life jackets on board for all their passengers. However, 66 percent of them don’t wear a PFD every time they go out, according to a Coast Guard study conducted in 2001 and 2002 involving more than 25,000 recreational boaters. The Coast Guard is working with the marine industry to promote regular PFD use, particularly since there are newer styles and lighter models, which are more comfortable and practical than older ones.

The report also cites alcohol use as a continued concern, despite stepped up enforcement and education. “We’re always hopeful we’ll see a decrease in alcohol consumption,” says Jeff Hoedt, chief of the Coast Guard office of boating safety. “We’re not seeing it yet.”

Carelessness, excessive speed, and operator inattention and inexperience also were cited.

The Coast Guard also is pushing boater education, since 80 percent of those who died were on boats whose operators hadn’t received boating safety instruction. “There are still far too many deaths, injuries and accidents,” says Underwood. “The key is education.”

Hoedt says educating more boaters about the potential dangers associated with being on the water can help, he says. “Life jackets help save lives, but ideally we would stop the accident from ever happening,” he says.

Hoedt says the Coast Guard is looking at statistics from Alabama, which requires all powerboat operators to be licensed. The program was phased in five years ago, and the state last year reported a 41-percent drop in fatalities, Hoedt says.

The Coast Guard office of boating safety has joined forces with a number of recreational boating partners to launch a safe-boating initiative, “You’re in Command.” Through the initiative the Coast Guard urges boaters to take a boating safety course, receive a free vessel safety check, wear a life jacket and never drink while boating.

“The Coast Guard is an advocate of recreational boating,” says Hoedt. “We recognize the positive benefits of recreational boating. We just want to make sure [boaters] are as safe as they can be.”

Seventy percent of all boating fatalities in 2003 involved drowning, according to the report. The Coast Guard estimates 416 lives could have been saved with the use of PFDs.

While the most commonly reported accident was a collision with another vessel, more than half (57 percent) of the fatalities involved capsizings and crew overboard. The Coast Guard urges boaters to check and adhere to their boats’ capacity levels. Most drownings (209) involved boats less than 16 feet. There were 179 drownings in the 16- to 26-foot range, 27 in the 26- to 40-foot range.

Florida and California had the highest fatality rates, with 58 and 56, respectively. Tennessee and Louisiana tied for third with 34 fatalities.

Thirteen million registered boats plied the waterways in 2003, 2 million more than 12 years ago.

The new statistics, including a breakdown by states, are posted on the Coast Guard boating safety Web site, Boaters can also visit, or call the Coast Guard Infoline at (800) 368-5647.

Coast Guard Auxiliary

names its new chief

The Coast Guard Auxiliary, the civilian volunteer component of the Coast Guard, has named Gene M. Seibert of Wachapreague, Va., its new national commodore.

Elected to a two-year term, Seibert has been part of the auxiliary for 20 years. He also has 34 years of experience in telecommunications, retiring from Lucent Technologies as director of international, government and domestic contract management.

“The 36,000 members of the auxiliary are moving into new and uncharted areas of responsibilities due to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the move to the Department of Homeland Security, and the increased responsibilities of the Coast Guard,” Seibert said in a statement. “We will balance our missions of recreational boating safety and Coast Guard support with maritime homeland security and other challenges that emerge.”