Safe summer sailing

Most motorists wouldn't think of driving without fastening their seat belts; a growing percentage of bicyclists automatically straps on helmets - and yet many boaters continue to head out on the water without donning life jackets.

This week is National Safe Boating Week, and the U.S. Coast Guard and National Safe Boating Council are urging those who set out on lakes, rivers and seas at the very least to follow the most fundamental principle of safe boating: Put on a life jacket.

Last year, 379 people in the United States drowned while not wearing life jackets, a grim statistic that can be lowered substantially and inexpensively by a simple action.

With Memorial Day weekend approaching, thousands of boat owners throughout the region will be putting their vessels in the water, and while the air may be nice and balmy the temperature of Long Island Sound at last report measured only about 59 degrees.

Experts say it takes only one to two hours of exposure in this water temperature to become exhausted, so chances are even the best swimmer would not be able to survive too long without a personal flotation device.

Wearing a life jacket is only one rule boaters should follow. Some other guidelines:

• Have the Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron inspect your vessel.

• File a float plan with someone who knows when you are leaving and when you plan to be back.

• Carry a horn or whistle to use in fog or during an emergency.

• Make sure your flares are up to date and functioning.

A few other common-sense suggestions: Water and alcohol don't mix if you're the skipper. It really doesn't matter, except in court, who has the right of way - don't hold your course and jeopardize lives just to prove your point. Opening the throttle of a high-powered boat can be a rush - to the emergency room.

This region offers some of the best boating opportunities in the country, and as the season progresses conditions will get increasingly crowded - power boats, sailboats, ferries, kayaks and fishing charters sharing the same waters plied year-round by submarines and cargo vessels.

Have fun out there, but keep it safe.

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