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Warning: paddle with caution

From May 1 to June 30, Coast Guard First District in Boston will be holding Operation Paddle Smart, a program designed to promote paddlesport safety in the Northeast, according to a recent press release.

The CG First District has suffered fatalities of 58 recreational boaters and paddlers in 2007, including 15 canoeists and eight kayakers (40 percent). Since 1998, when the district began monitoring area-specific boating fatalities, paddlesports have consistently averaged at least 30 percent of the yearly totals — double the national average, according to the release.

Though the program will continue after June 30, the two-month kickoff will include the distribution of safety packets across the Northeast and panels that will draw special focus to the lifesaving benefit of wearing a life jacket, discuss the immediate danger of sudden cold-water immersion, and stress the importance of being a responsible mariner.

“We’ve designed Operation Paddle Smart to be a focal point for organizations and retailers to work together to promote paddle safety and as an information source for all paddlers and small boaters,” says Cdr. Tom Miller, deputy chief of the CG First District Prevention Division, in the release.

Over the course of the two months, the First District will collect feedback from participants to find out what efforts worked best and how it can be improved next year. The Coast Guard reminds paddlers life jackets must be worn while under way through May 15 in Massachusetts, through May 30 in Connecticut and through June 1 in Maine on the SacoRiver below the Hiram Dam.

For information or how to become involved, contact the Operation Paddle Smart hotline at (617) 223-8619.

— Elizabeth Ellis