Boating safety doesn’t happen by accident

From The Baltimore Sun

Memorial Day marked the unofficial beginning of boating season in Maryland and elsewhere. Every weekend for the next few months, thousands of people will be out on the water across the state whether it’s Deep Creek Lake, the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean off Ocean City and Assateague Island. But the summer boating season is also certain to suffer its customary share of accidents and fatalities — most if not all of which are preventable.

This loss of life associated with recreational boating is surely among the most frustrating statistics in public health because it’s so avoidable. In many ways, it mirrors the daily carnage on the nation’s roads — with irresponsible behavior, including the boating equivalent of drunk driving and speeding, among the chief culprits. But arguably it’s worse. Americans take to the roads and expose themselves to the inherent risk out of necessity. Boating is a luxury. There’s absolutely no reason why people need to be placed in harm’s way if everyone behaves prudently.

Take, for example, life jackets, more properly known as personal flotation devices. Under Maryland law, children under the age of 13 must wear them while any vessel is underway, and that includes not just motorboats but sailboats, canoes, kayaks and rowboats. Yet in cases of drowning, what percentage of victims were found not to be wearing one? According to the U.S. Coast Guard, that would be 84.5 percent. That’s a problem, particularly given that about three-quarters of boating accident fatalities involve drowning.

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