PHOENIX — The importance of wearing a life jacket while out on Arizona’s waterways was sadly reflected in the boating tragedies of 2017. A majority of the recreational boating fatalities were individuals who drowned and were not wearing a life jacket — the most important piece of safety gear one can wear whether on a boat, personal watercraft or paddlecraft.
This was the case for eight of the 12 fatalities that occurred last year. And it’s a number that’s echoed nationally: The U.S. Coast Guard reported that 83 percent of drowning victims in 2016 were not wearing a life jacket.
The Coast Guard also names alcohol as a leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, which was reflected in Arizona. Operating under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs was a contributing factor in five of the fatalities.
“As you make your New Year’s resolutions, add boating safety to the list,” said Tim Baumgarten, boating law administrator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD). “Designate a sober operator, wear a life jacket and ensure that others on your boat do so as well. Together we can prevent many boating tragedies and keep Arizona’s waterways safe for everyone.”
AZGFD aims to both keep the public safe by patrolling the state’s waterways and also educating people on best practices for boating safety and operation. Enforcement efforts including sobriety checkpoints and participation in initiatives like Operation Dry Water allow officers to make contact with watercraft users throughout the state and share the important messages about sober boating, while helping to stop unsafe behaviors.
The department’s Boating Safety Education program holds free monthly courses in Phoenix and Lake Havasu City with the goal of reaching as many Arizonans as possible. The classes include instruction on the basic skills required to safely operate a boat or personal watercraft, navigational rules, legal requirements and boating emergencies.
“Our courses are beneficial for both those new to boating and veterans of the waterways,” said Josh Hoffman, boating safety education coordinator for AZGFD. “The classes are always free, and the investment of your time will pay off the next time a question or unexpected issue comes up when you’re on the water.”
AZGFD also wants to remind the public that life jackets must be worn by children 12 and younger anytime they are onboard a boat or watercraft, and that a properly fitting life jacket must be available for all passengers. For boaters who do not have enough or the right size of life jackets for everyone going out on the water, life jacket loaner stations have been installed at lakes Apache, Bartlett, Canyon, Havasu, Mohave, Patagonia, Pleasant and Saguaro as well as Cattail Cove on the Colorado River.
Whether boaters need to borrow a life jacket or (better yet) come prepared with their own safety gear, taking the step of wearing a life jacket can help prevent a tragedy.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard