Officials urge boaters to be safe this season


National Safe Boating Week runs from May 22 to 28 this year, and the traditional opening to the summer boating season will start this weekend, so the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Boating Safety Office is encouraging people to practice safe boating.

“Delaware consistently has one of the lowest boating accident rates in the country. Last year, we had only one boating-related fatality and 18 reportable boating accidents,” reported Sgt. Greg Rhodes, the Boating Safety Office’s boating education specialist.

“That’s good,” he said, “but we’d still like to see those numbers go down. Though some accidents are unavoidable, we need everyone on our waterways to be alert, use common sense and avoid actions that will put themselves, their passengers and other boaters at risk.”

He added that, this year so far in Delaware, five boating accidents have been reported, with two fatalities.

“Thos numbers are usually low because of our great volunteers that do a plethora of things, like inspect boats, go over safety equipment and teach our boating safety courses,” said Rhodes. In addition to the volunteers, the state has 28 officers that act as “cops on the water.”

Rhodes added that boating safety courses can be taken online or in a traditional classroom setting, and anyone born after Jan. 1, 1978, that operates a boat or personal watercraft must successfully complete a boating safety course (regardless of whether they are a Delaware resident or not). Children 12 or younger are required to wear a lifejacket while on the water. While that is not mandatory for adults, it is encouraged.

Rhodes explained that a disturbing trend had been people drinking while operating boats.

“Drinking and boating do not mix,” he said. “It takes a lot of skill to drive a boat, and when you throw alcohol in, that’s where you get a lot of problems.”

He added that courtesy on the water and using common sense are big factors in boating safety.

“Most accidents happen in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of summer on a bluebird day, and people just run into each other,” said Rhodes. “For cars, there’s the road, but for boats, they have the capacity to go wherever they want.”

He added that boaters learn things like navigational laws in the free boating safety courses. For example, if two boats are approaching each other, the rule is that both boats go their right, or, if a boat is passing another boat, the vessel in the front is supposed to maintain its speed as the vessel in the back moves to its right.

“Courtesy goes a long way on the water,” he said. “When boaters treat other boaters how they would like to be treated, it solves a lot of problems on the water.”

For more information on boating safety courses that are offered free of charge, visit the Web site at http://www.fw.delaware.gov/Boating/Pages/Delaware_Boating_Safety.aspx or view the Handbook of Delaware Boating Laws and Responsibilities at http://boat-ed.com/de/handbook.

Statistics according to the U.S. Coast Guard:

• In 2008, the Coast Guard counted 4,789 accidents that involved 709 deaths, 3,331 injuries and approximately $54 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.

• More than two-thirds of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and, of those, 90 percent were not wearing a lifejacket.

• Only 10 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction.

• Careless/reckless operation, operator inattention, no proper lookout, operator inexperience and passenger/skier behavior rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

• Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 17 percent of the deaths.