Exercise safety while boating

Published 7:35 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2019

With weather warming, boaters are hitting the water on the Pamlico and Pungo rivers, and this is the time of year that sees backups at the boat ramp. As such, it is also the perfect time for a refresher on boating safety.

Next week, May 18-24, marks National Safe Boating Week, and it’s something worth paying attention to. On average, 650 people die each year in boating-related accidents and 76% of those fatalities are caused by drowning, according to the National Safe Boating Campaign.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that human error accounts for 70% of all boating accidents and that life jackets could prevent nearly 85% of boating fatalities.

“Through basic boating safety procedures — carrying lifesaving emergency distress and communications equipment, wearing life jackets, attending safe boating courses, participating in free boat safety checks and staying sober when navigating — we can help ensure boaters on America’s coastal, inland and offshore waters stay safe throughout the season,” the National Safe Boating Campaign states.

Last year, the Pamlico and Pungo rivers claimed three lives.

The first, Capt. James Cleary Jr., assistant chief with the Belhaven Fire Department, died while responding to a distress call during a winter storm last January. Two more, Thomas and Sarah Baker, part time residents of Bayview, went overboard from their Grady White powerboat in August. What followed was a massive search and recovery operation involving multiple local and state agencies. The couple was found two days later and neither was wearing a life jacket. Both were terrible tragedies, and in the latter case, possibly preventable.

This coming weekend and the weekend after, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will offer free vessel safety checks, including for paddle crafts at two popular boat launches. The group will be set up at Havens Garden and Tranters Creek from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, then again on May 25 and May 26. Examiners on site will help determine what safety equipment is missing from a vessel. Inspections take between 15 and 20 minutes and are free of charge.

We strongly encourage boaters to take advantage of these inspections, and to exercise caution and common sense as they explore local scenic waterways. Be safe on the water, and please don’t become a headline.