HOUGHTON - Summer is officially here and boating season is already in full swing, but with the increased boating activity, the risk of boating accidents increases.
According to the United States Coast Guard's Recreational Boating Statistics from 2011, there were 4,588 boating accidents, 3,081 injuries, $52 million dollars in property damage from boating accidents and a 12.8 percent increase in the number of boating deaths from 2010 - all numbers that can be reduced in 2012 by following a few simple safety tips.
"Three keys we want people to be aware of are life jackets, float plans and visual distress signals," said Richard Chaney, boatswain's mate at U.S. Coast Guard Station Portage in Dollar Bay.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Local marinas, like the L’Anse Marina seen here, are filling up quickly as boaters get ready to enjoy summer on the water, but the United States Coast Guard has several important tips to make sure the 2012 boating season is a safe one.
The Coast Guard estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of more than 80 percent of boating fatality victims.
Chaney, whose position is the most versatile on the Coast Guard's operational team, emphasized that life jackets must be the appropriate size and fit snuggly - adult sizes will not work for children - and they must be properly stowed in the boat.
"The wearable life jackets must be readily accessible - not in plastic bags, in locked departments or with other gear on top of them," he said.
Float plans are also important to staying safe on the water - and not just for those captaining large vessels. Kayakers, jet skiers and sail boaters are all encouraged to leave a copy of the plan with a friend or relative who will not be on the boat, and include key information about how many people will be on the boat, where the boat will be going, when it will be back and contact information.
A blank float plan form can be found on the Coast Guard's Boating Safety Resource Center website at uscgboating.org.
If something does go wrong while out on a boat, the Coast Guard can be reached on channel 16 VHF-FM on a marine two-way radio, or via phone at 906-482-1520.
"Channel 16 is monitored 24 hours a day," Chaney said.
Visual distress signals are also important for boaters, and according to Chaney, boats should always have flares visible during the day and night, a signal mirror and a whistle, air horn or other sound device for use in emergencies.
"Always make sure you have a combination of daytime and nighttime flares, and check the expiration date, too. They do expire." Chaney advised. "We also ask that everyone carries - even on smaller vessels - at least a whistle."
For more information about what should be on a boat, visit the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary's Vessel Safety Check website at safetyseal.net.
"Boaters just have to make sure they have the right equipment before they go out," Chaney said.
Boaters are also encouraged to monitor the weather before departing, specifically for small-craft advisories and gale warnings; drive at reasonable speeds and monitor the wake being thrown off by the boat; and take along a variety of food and non-alcoholic beverages. The Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies are cracking down on those boating under the influence of alcohol.
Additional boating safety resources can be found at uscgboating.org, including links to more than a dozen online boating safety courses. Coast Guard Station Portage offered a boater safety course in April, but no local offline courses are scheduled at this time.
"Whenever we have those, check the local newspaper for more information," Chaney said. "Uscgboating.org is a really good website."
The site also contains information about state and federal regulations, recalls and safety defect information, statistics and updates from the National Boating Safety Advisory Council.