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Keep on paddling, but do so safely

While boating fatalities nationwide decreased from 710 in 2006 to 685 in 2007, the number of fatalities among those paddling kayaks and canoes increased to 107, eight more than in 2006, according to a recent Coast Guard report. That’s around 15.6 percent of all boating fatalities. Most were caused by drowning.

With more Americans kayaking — a 23 percent increase in 2005 alone due, in part, to rising fuel costs — the Coast Guard and the American Canoe Association are offering some safety tips:

• Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

• Follow all local, state and federal laws.

• Learn the skills needed to navigate safely, and practice self-rescue.

• Boat with a group and file a float plan with friends, family or authorities. Three boats is the recommended minimum, according to the report.

• Bring safety, rescue and navigational equipment, including a bright light, flares and a signaling whistle, and wear bright, protective clothing that will make you easy to spot. Cotton is not recommended.

• Don’t get in over your head. Start at a level you’re comfortable with, then move to more challenging waters. Monitor your physical and emotional condition, and watch out for other members in your group.

• Take a boating safety class with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

For information, visit the Web sites of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and American Canoe Association.

— Elizabeth Ellis