Residents asked to boat safely

Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   With the passing of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, summer is now in full swing, and with it comes family outings such as picnics and swimming at the lake.
   The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the United States Coast Guard and the National Safe Boating Council are reminding people that while they are having fun on the water they also need to think about being safe by wearing their life jackets and practicing safe boating habits.
   According to statistics from the United States Coast Guard, approximately 750 boaters died in 2002, the last year for which statistics were available. Of those who died, 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets, even though, in many of the cases, life jackets were available on board the water craft.
   "Our boating accident statistics show that wearing your life jacket is the number one thing you can do to greatly increase your chances of surviving a boating accident," said Rear Admiral Jeffrey J. Hathaway, director of Operations Police for the U.S. Coast Guard. "The reality is there is rarely enough time to reach a life jacket, because accidents happen so quickly and unexpectedly. Up to 440 boaters would have survived in 2002 if they had simply put on their life jackets before they headed out. Remember, you're in command. So, boat smart. Boat safe. Wear it."
   The NSBC reports that in Tennessee in 2002, 21 people died and 97 were injured as a result of boating accidents.
   Virgil Chambers, executive director of the NSBC, says that advancements in the design of life jackets now allow consumers flexibility in the type of personal floatation device they want to use. "With today's lighter, more comfortable, and attractive life jackets, there is no reason not to wear one," he said. "There are life jackets for almost every activity too - from hunting, to paddling and general recreational boating. There are jackets that inflate in the water and jackets that don't look like life jackets at all. Make sure you have the right one for your chosen activity and make sure it fits."
   The NSBC offers several tips for selecting the proper fitting life jacket and making sure you have it fastened properly.
   "Select a properly sized life jacket. Make sure it's Coast Guard approved. Try on the life jacket to see if it fits comfortably snug. Ensure all straps, zippers, and ties are fastened," states information from the NSBC. "Raise your arms over your head. Have someone lift your life jacket straight up by the shoulders. The life jacket should stay in place. If your mouth and nose fall below the topmost edge at the shoulder or collar, or it almost comes off, the life jacket is too loose."
   According to the TWRA, state law requires life jackets to be on board any water craft. "You must have a wearable life jacket onboard for every person. Keep life jackets easily accessible and remember - all children under the age 13 must wear a life jacket at all times while on a boat which is underway," states information from the TWRA on safe boating, adding that boats which are drifting are considered to be underway.
   The TWRA also advises boaters to refrain from using alcohol while on the water and reminds them that if they choose to consume alcohol while boating, they can be charged with boating under the influence. "Alcohol affects people three times faster on the water than on land because of the external stressors such as heat, glare, motion and vibration," states info from the TWRA.
   Individuals seeking more information on safe boating tips can visit the NSBC's website at www.safeboatingcampaign.com or the TWRA's Web site at www.state.tn.us/twra.