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Environmental Police Officers from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are teaming up with boating safety advocates across the United States and Canada to promote safe and responsible boating and consistent life jacket wearing during National Safe Boating Week. It runs from Saturday, May 22, to Friday, May 28.

Throughout the week, DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement will increase water patrols, conduct boating safety inspections, and provide information on boating safety in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

DEM Environmental Police are joining the RI State Fire Marshal’s Bomb Squad and West Marine to host two safety flare collection events this year. Boaters may bring their expired flares to West Marine for proper disposal.

The first collection event is on Saturday, May 22, from 9 AM to 3 PM at West Marine, 399 Bald Hill Road, Warwick. The second collection event will take place on Sunday, May 23, from 9 AM to 3 PM at West Marine, 379 West Main Road, Middletown. 

National Safe Boating Week also is the official launch of the 2021 North American safe boating campaign. This year-long effort promotes safe and responsible boating and the value of voluntary life jacket wear by recreational boaters through the national theme, Wear It! The campaign reminds boaters of the importance of boating safely, boating sober, knowing navigational rules, and having a proper lookout.

“The key to safe boating is the life jacket,” said Lieutenant Michael Schipritt, boating safety coordinator for DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement in a statement.  “A person who suffers swimming failure or loss of consciousness will stay afloat wearing a life jacket but will drown without one. There is no time to put a life jacket on before a boating accident – it’s no different than attempting to buckle your seat belt before a car crash.”

As an added safety advisory, DEM is reminding boaters about the new federal law that requires the operator of a vessel with an installed Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) to use the ECOS link – typically a bungee cord lanyard that’s clipped onto the operator’s body, lifejacket or clothing with the other end attached to the cut-off switch. When the operator of a boat is wearing a link while underway, for safety reasons the engine will shut off if the boater is separated from the operating area, such as when the operator is ejected from the vessel or falls within the vessel. If the operator is ejected from the vessel, the shutdown may prevent the operator from impacting the vessel’s spinning propeller and may aid the operator in safely returning to the drifting vessel. The law took effect April 1 and applies to any motorized boat with three or more horsepower that is less than 26 feet in length.  For more information on the new law, click here.

According to the US Coast Guard, eight out of 10 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length. Using small, unstable vessels like canoes and kayaks in water that’s deceivingly cold puts anglers in a very dangerous situation. Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. U.S. Coast Guard statistics for 2019 also show that:  

●    Drowning was the reported cause of death in 79% of all boating fatalities.

●    Of those who drowned, 86% were not wearing life jackets.

●    Kayakers and canoeists accounted for 22% of all deaths reported.

●    Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

●    Where the level of instruction was known, 70% of deaths occurred where the operator did not receive any boating safety instruction.

Important Reminders

●    Children under 13 years old must wear an approved life jacket on recreational craft unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin.

●    Make sure life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard-approved.

●    Double-check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities. Today, life jackets are stylish, versatile, comfortable, and lightweight. New technology allows many to inflate automatically when immersed in water.

●    Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can be hazardous.

●    Life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.”

Today’s Life Jackets Offer Style, Variety, and Comfort

Most boaters know they’re required to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board for every passenger on their boat. All operators of paddle craft including paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks also are required to have a life jacket readily available; boating safety advocates recommend all boaters including boaters using paddle craft and passengers “Wear It” at all times while on the water. Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket. 

The good news is that today’s life jackets are much more comfortable, lightweight, and stylish than the bulky orange style most boaters know. Life jackets that use inflatable technologies are cool and comfortable. They may resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack. Many inflate automatically when immersed in water. A variety of life jacket styles are available for almost any boating activity, including:

    Fishing: Vest-style life jackets come with features such as pockets and clips to replace the fishing vest and keep the angler safe.

●    Personal watercraft and water sports: Inherently buoyant lighter-weight life jackets are rugged, with multiple buckles and clasps to keep them secure after impact with the water.

●    Hunting and cold weather: Full coats and suits are available in camouflage colors for waterfowl hunting and for those who boat when air and water temperatures are cool.

●    Paddling: Special life jackets are designed with large openings for arms to allow ease of movement and there are belt style life jackets worn on the waist.

Practically all styles of life jackets are available and sized especially for children – some with cartoon characters, straps for pulling children from the water, and high-visibility schemes.  And, life jackets are even available for pets. It’s helpful to purchase one with a handle on top to easily pull your pet out of the water, if needed. No matter what the activity or style chosen, the most important thing is this: Remember to grab a life jacket and ‘Wear It!’ 

The US and Canada have recently adopted a new labeling system for lifejackets that features use-specific numeric codes and universal pictures and symbols. When purchasing a new lifejacket, boaters should pay attention to the label to be sure that the lifejacket is appropriate for its intended activity. 

Wear It! unites the efforts of a wide variety of boating safety advocates, including the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and Canadian Safe Boating Council with the National Safe Boating Council. It is produced under a grant from the Sports Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

For more information on Rhode Island boating laws and regulations including the mandatory boating safety education requirement and certification process, please visit www.dem.ri.gov or contact the Division of Law Enforcement at 401-222-2284. Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM for timely updates.

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Ryan M. Belmore

Ryan M. Belmore is the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers. Send questions, tips, and story ideas to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.