It’s summertime and the weather is fine and you’ve got boating on your mind. So how fitting is it that National Safe Boating Week is upon us? Running from May 22-28, National Safe Boating Week encourages safe and responsible boating, not only for one’s personal safety, but also for the safety of others.

Steve McCullough, the Waterfront Department’s Harbor Patrol Supervisor, said that there are multiple things to remember when boating in Santa Barbara, especially during the summer holidays.

“You have to check the weather when you’re planning your trip,” McCullough said. “You also need to check sea and wind conditions before you go out, and when you’re out at sea, you have to continue to monitor the conditions.”

This is especially important, McCullough said, for any vessel under 26 feet in length. As U.S. Coast Guard statistics from 2008 show, vessels under 26 feet long were the most common to be involved in any kind of accident.

McCullough also noted that boating safety classes can be very beneficial and worthwhile. “People who have had boating safety courses tend to know a little more and end up having fewer problems when they are out on the water,” McCullough said.

The Coast Guard counted 4,789 accidents in 2008 that involved 709 deaths, and of those, only ten percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction.

McCullough acknowledges that “a majority” of boaters in California do not have any formal education in boating safety because it is not required in the state to take any such classes.

Alcohol intake is also a very important thing to consider in an attempt to have a safe boating season. In 2008, alcohol was the sixth largest contributing factor in boating accidents, and it was the first primary contributing factor in deaths. McCullough advises boaters: “Don’t drink and drive a boat because it impairs your ability to operate, and if you end up in the water, alcohol makes hypothermia set in quicker.”

The National Safe Boating Council is pushing its “Wear It!” slogan this week to remind boaters to wear a life jacket at all times. Some may say that they are good swimmers and don’t need life jackets, but drowning accidents are more common than one may think. Over two-thirds of all fatal boating accident victims drowned in 2008, and of those, 90 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

“Santa Barbara isn’t like Mexico or the warmer waters,” McCullough said. “Even during the summer, the water can be cold and hypothermia can set in pretty quickly. As that happens, you’ll have less ability to keep yourself afloat. If your boat capsizes or you get hit in the head and get knocked unconscious, the lifejacket would keep your head above water. You may say, ‘I’m a good swimmer,’ and all that, but that may not help you if you get hit in the head or injured or in cold water and become hypothermic.”

There are simply too many risks involved when one doesn’t wear a life jacket, he said, and the statistics prove that.

“Boating can be a fun, safe and enjoyable activity, but when the “Wear It!” message is ignored, the consequences can be grim,” said Virgil Chambers, Executive Director of the National Safe Boating Council. “And yet, year after year, we continue to see boaters who choose to go without wearing a life jacket.”

There are different types of life jackets for different vessels and different water activities. There are life jackets for children and even for your pets. No matter the vessel, if you are on the water this summer, remember to enjoy it and do it safely and responsibly. Boating is supposed to be fun, so don’t let an accident get in the way of enjoying your summer. Check the weather, take a safety class, don’t drink alcohol, and wear a life jacket. Don’t let yourself or somebody close to you become just another statistic.


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