Recreational boating deaths up 62 percent in New England

CRANSTON, R. I. (WPRI) — The Northeast Coast Guard released its 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics report, revealing a major increase in local boating fatalities from 2015 to 2016.

Nationwide boating fatalities totaled 701 in 2016, an 11.3 percent increase from the 626 in 2015. But in New England, the increase was a whopping 62 percent, up to 55 in 2016 from 34 in 2015.

According to the report, 40 of the 55 people who died did so by drowning and 45 of the 55 were not wearing a life jacket.

Boaters at the Edgewood Yacht Club in Cranston said that’s why they take safety very seriously.

“We just had rain so I was wearing my jacket, but right under it is my life jacket!” said Catherine White, an instructor for Edgewood Sailing School.

White said she puts her life jacket on as soon as she gets to the dock.

“You might not be conscious when you go into the water, you might have a heart attack, you might get hit by a boom,” she said. “There’s a number of reasons why you would want to wear a life jacket, even if you are a good swimmer.”

“People say ‘I don’t have to wear those,’ but they make them inflatable now, so it’s like not even having it there,” said Cranston Harbormaster Ted Westcott.

Michael Longtin is now the manager at Edgewood Yacht Club but he used to work for the U.S. Coast Guard and State Marine Patrol. He said he’s seen lots of unsafe boating practices over the years, but he was surprised by the numbers.

“I know the Coast Guard is out there actively and the DEM and state and local police are out there actively enforcing these things, so that is surprising to me that the numbers are that high,” Longtin said.

Longtin said boaters should always let someone know where they are heading and when they are expected to be back.

Some additional important boating safety measures from the Northeast Coast Guard:

  • Boat and paddle sober. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Refrain from using alcohol or other impairing substances when operating boats or other watercraft.
  • Always have a marine VHF radio on your boat, along with an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon) or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) in case of emergency. Cell phones may not be dependable while out on the water.
  • Be sure you are not operating a boat or paddlecraft beyond your level of knowledge and handling skill. Operator inattention, boater and paddler inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure and excessive speed rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Take a boating safety course or get a free safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. You’ll have the peace of mind knowing your boat meets federal and state standards, and in an emergency, you will have the necessary safety equipment.

Visit the U.S. Coast Guard’s website for more information on boating responsibly.