It's gotten warm. The waters of Long Island Sound, always beautiful, look more and more inviting. Boat owners, whether they ride in kayaks or yachts, are sprucing up their vessels and putting them in the water, getting ready for another wonderful season of recreational boating.
But for those who get into accidents on the water, the season won't be so wonderful. The summer boating season is always the busiest time of year for the U.S. Coast Guard, and its volunteer force, the Coast Guard Auxiliary. When people get in trouble, they are there to help.
They know this better than anyone: The single best action any recreational boater can take to stay safe on the water is to wear a Personal Floatation Device, otherwise known as a life jacket - no matter what. And the Coast Guard can prove it.
The Coast Guard compiles an exhaustive annual report every year on boating accident statistics and fatalities. On its website, there are reports going back to 1999. (www.uscgboating.org/statistics/accident-statistics.aspx) The statistics are eye-openers. In 2010, for example, there were 672 boater fatalities nationwide, seven in Connecticut. The overwhelming reason people die on the water is due to drowning. And the overwhelming factor in drowning deaths is one single, utterly idiotic fact: More than 80 percent of victims didn't wear a life jacket.
What a tragedy for their families, and how bitter it must be to know that simply wearing a life vest could have prevented a lifetime of grief.
And if you think it's enough to grab a life jacket only if the waves get high or the weather gets menacing, think again. Bad weather is last on a list of top 10 contributing factors of boater accidents. Among the top reasons are operator inattention, inexperience, alcohol use, and speed.
An accident can occur without warning, and with no time at all to don a life vest.
The average life jacket wear rate for all boaters of any age on all boats combined for 2011 was nearly 22 percent. That's terrible, but there's only one reason it's even that high: Most youth under the age of 17 wear life jackets.
But adult life jacket wear rate for all boaters (not including those who ride jet-skiis) is a truly miserable 4 percent. Even kayakers only wore life jackets a little less than half the time.
What are people thinking?
Many people say that life vests are uncomfortable or inconvenient. But there's a simple solution. Those who invest the money to buy a boat should be able to shop around and buy something comfortable to wear that would save lives - their own, or those of their passengers. Every recreational boater should own a life jacket that they wouldn't mind wearing routinely on the water
The other message from Coast Guard reports is the simple fact that an educated boater is less likely to get in trouble. It seems so obvious, but people operating a vessel without taking a course in safe boating or a myriad of other helpful courses the Coast Guard and other organizations offer. In analyzing fatal boating accidents, the Coast Guard was able to figure out the boater education about half of the operators. The upshot: In accidents in which people died, 84 percent of the operators had taken no course at all.
So do yourself a favor this summer. If you operate a boat, make sure you wear a life vest - and your passengers, too. And take a boating course if you need one (local courses can be found at www.d1south.org/pages/boating-safety.php).
If these steps strike you as being inconvenient, look at it this way: It's a whole lot less inconvenient than being dead.