It’s Safe Boating Week in Louisiana and across the nation, and officials are using it to promote one of the most important things you can do to prevent a disaster on the water.
“It’s tempting to boat without wearing a life jacket, especially on nice days,” Rachel Johnson, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council, said in a news release. “A life jacket not worn can’t save your life. Always wear it.”
Wear It is the organization’s theme for the week, and it is a common message from groups involved in National Safe Boating week, including the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Coast Guard.
In Louisiana, anyone 16 and younger must wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device while underway in boats less than 26 foot long. State law also requires boats to be equipped with at least one personal flotation device for each occupant.
In 2015, Louisiana reported 22 boating fatalities, up from 18 the year before and 15 in 2013, state data show. Officials said 2013 and 2014 saw the lowest numbers of boating deaths on record in Louisiana.
Boating deaths totaled 626 last year, according to a Coast Guard report released last week, the third-lowest number on record.
Among the data:
— The rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels is up 1.9 percent from the 2014.
— Twenty-two children under age 13 died while boating last year. Of those, 12 died from drowning, including two who were wearing a life jacket. Half of the remaining 10 children who were not wearing a life jacket were not required to do so under laws it their states.
— Property damage from boating wrecks approximately $42 million.
— Alcohol was the leading known contributor to fatal boating accidents in 2015. It was listed as the leading factor in 17 percent of deaths. Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure and excessive speed ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
— Where the cause of death was known, 76 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those, 85 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
— Where boating instruction was known, 71 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received training.
Capt. Verne Gifford, Coast Guard director of Inspections and Compliance, said numerous groups offer education and training programs that have helped reduce deaths and injuries over the long term.
“However, boating under the influence and failure to wear life jackets remain among the leading factors contributing to most boating fatalities,” he said in a news release. “Together, we must continue to work to reduce the numbers of accidents, injuries and deaths.”
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Executive Editor Keith Magill of The Houma Daily Courier.