From here on out, make it a safe summer on our waters

Before Memorial Day 2018 was a memory, three southeastern Connecticut boaters went missing. As their bodies subsequently were found, two of those three are confirmed dead. The third is presumed dead.

This is a grim start to the summer season. In contrast, there were three fatalities in the whole state during the entire 2016 boating season, according to a boating safety report by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

One of southeastern Connecticut’s best assets is its shoreline. When temperatures rise and the amount of daylight lengthens, many of us strive to be near or on the water. There were more than 96,000 registered recreational vessels in the state in 2016, according to DEEP. In addition, there are an untold number of small craft that do not require registration. These small vessels such as kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are relatively affordable and easy to use and, therefore, more popular than ever and ubiquitous in the state’s lakes, rivers and on Long Island Sound.

While it’s important for all boaters to adhere to safety precautions while on the water, paddlers and those sailing very small sailboats should be especially diligent. Just look at a molded plastic kayak next to a powerful cigarette boat, tug or the Orient Point ferry and it’s easy to understand just how at-risk a paddler can be in some local waters.

The simplest way to avoid a boating tragedy is to wear a life jacket. DEEP reports that all three of the 2016 fatalities were drownings. None of the three wore a life jacket. Officials also confirmed that at least one of those who died in the Memorial Day accidents was not wearing a life jacket.

The state’s boating regulations require that a life jacket be worn between Oct. 1 and May 31. Boaters 12 years old and younger must also wear a life jacket on board vessels year-round.

While a life jacket must be on board but does not have to be worn between June 1 and Sept. 30, it just makes sense for boaters to actually wear the safety gear no matter the season. This is especially true for those in very small craft.

Boaters who are strong swimmers may think wearing a life jacket is not necessary, but knowing how to swim can be irrelevant in a boating accident. If a boater is knocked unconscious by a capsized vessel, or is even temporarily incapacitated in a collision, his or her ability to swim is meaningless.

The extremely cold waters in our region this time of season can add to the danger and to the importance of wearing those life jackets.

Other top safety rules boaters should follow: paddle only within your ability, paddle with a partner or in a group, notify someone on shore of your plans, be cognizant of water and weather conditions, and, most important of all, never boat while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. In 2016, a quarter of the state’s boating accidents involved alcohol, according to DEEP.

Boating – whether it’s paddling a kayak on an inland lake, sailing a small boat on the Thames River or motoring far offshore in a larger craft – is a great summertime pleasure. However, boaters must apply some simple safety practices to help ensure they will live to paddle, cruise or sail another day. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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