Boating accidents during the three summer holiday weekends represent between 15 to 20 percent of all accidents in a given year. This year five fatalities occurred during the week leading up to Memorial Day weekend. With the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, the Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW) urges boaters to boat safely.
“Waterways will be crowded this weekend with boaters who want to have fun with family and friends,” stated DBW’s Acting Director Lucia Becerra. “Unfortunately, this congestion along with rivers running faster and colder this summer and reservoir water levels being higher from previous years will lead to accidents, injuries and fatalities.”
DBW wants boaters to remember certain boating safety tips to increase their chances of survival.
Prepare for the worst, wear a life jacket
• Of the 49 boating fatalities in 2009, 53 percent drowned. Of that group, 73 percent were not wearing life jackets.
• Life jackets can provide some thermal protection against the onset of hypothermia and keep you afloat until someone else can rescue you.
• Knowing how to swim is one of the most common reasons given for not wearing a life jacket and gives boaters a false sense of security. Often the victim has a serious injury or is knocked unconscious and cannot swim.
• Other factors that can affect swimming ability include cold water immersion, heavy clothes or alcohol consumption.
Know the water
• Cold water can cause hyperventilation contributing to fatigue. When combined with swift water, even the strongest swimmers are easily overwhelmed.
• Cold water can stimulate the “gasp reflex” causing involuntary inhalation of air or water.
• Sudden cold water immersion can trigger cardiac arrest.
• Cold water entering the ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This may confuse the swimmer causing the victim to swim deeper into the water or into the propeller.
Know your limits
• Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool. People tire more quickly and can get into trouble.
• Properly load your vessel.
• Avoid alcohol consumption while boating. If you do consume alcohol, wear a life jacket.
• Drinking alcohol can also accelerate the effects of hypothermia.
Boaters are also reminded of a new life jacket age requirement. Children under the age of 13 are now required to wear a life jacket when on a moving boat that’s 26 feet in length or less.
For more information on boating safety, laws, or to order a boating safety course, please visit www.BoatSmarter.com  or call (888) 326-2822. Remember, “If it’s your boat, it’s your responsibility.”
State law requires boaters involved in accidents to file a written report with DBW when a person dies, disappears or requires medical attention beyond first aid. A report is also required when an accident results in damage to a vessel or other property exceeding $500 or there is a complete loss of a vessel. Boaters can find a printable California Boating Accident Report form at www.dbw.ca.gov/PDF/AccidentForms/BAR.pdf .
DBW promotes on-the-water safety and helps develop convenient public access to the waterways through programs funded by vessel registration fees, boating fuel tax dollars and boating facility construction loan payments.