Kayakers wearing life jackets while paddling the Wood River in Hopkinton. Photo provided by DEM

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is advising paddlers and anglers to use caution and wear a life jacket to help ensure they enjoy a safe boating experience. Over Labor Day weekend, DEM says in a press release that its Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) responded to several rescues of kayakers needing assistance due to improper equipment and inexperience handling the strong currents and higher water levels caused by recent storms. According to DEM, no fatalities occurred. Of particular concern are boaters on waterbodies in the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed and the Pawtuxet River.

According to a United States Coast Guard (USCG) report, eight out of 10 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length. Smaller vessels such as canoes and kayaks are less stable than larger vessels and in strong currents paddlers using them can put themselves in danger. Drowning is the reported cause of death in 75% of all boating fatalities. Of those who drowned, 86% were not wearing life jackets.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Kayakers wearing life jackets while paddling the Wood River in Hopkinton. Photo provided by DEM

“There is no time to put a life jacket on before a boating accident,” said Lieutenant Michael Schipritt, DLE’s boating safety coordinator in a statement provided in a press release.” It would be like trying to buckle your seat belt before a car crash. Smart boaters wear a life jacket from the time they board a boat until they return to shore.”

According to DEM, today’s life jackets are comfortable, stylish, and easy to wear. Some aren’t even old-fashioned, bulky orange jackets anymore, having been replaced by innovative options such as inflatable life jackets that allow mobility and flexibility for activities like boating and fishing.

USCG 2020 statistics also show that:

  • Where the level of instruction was known, 77% of deaths occurred where the operator did not receive any boating safety instruction.
  • Only 12%  percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator was known to have received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.
  • Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in all fatal boating accidents.

Most boating fatalities are the result of capsizing or falls overboard, not collisions between boats running at high speed. Experts recommend that people who end up in the water stay with the boat, even if they can’t get back in. They are more likely to be seen by potential rescuers if they are next to a boat. A person should only swim for shore if wearing a life jacket, the likelihood of rescue is low, or they are close to shore and aren’t able to climb back into or on top of the boat.

“The key is the life jacket,” Lieutenant Schipritt said. “A person who suffers swimming failure or loss of consciousness will stay afloat wearing a life jacket but will drown without one.”

Boating safety education has helped reduce boating accidents in Rhode Island, and it is the law. In Rhode Island, successful completion of a boating safety course is required for all boaters born after January 1, 1986, who operate a boat with a motor greater than 10 horsepower; and regardless of age for all operators of personal watercraft (jet ski). For information on classroom courses or to access DEM’s free online course, visit http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/law/boating-safety-topics.php. Also, you may access this information through DEM’s state-approved online boating safety study course at https://www.boat-ed.com/rhodeisland/. Contact DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement at (401) 222-3070 for the home study packet. If you choose the online course or the home study option, you will be required to take our free certification exam.

For information on Rhode Island boating laws, visit http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/law/boating-safety-topics.php.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What'sUpNewp.  Belmore has been involved with What’sUpNewp since shortly after its launch in 2012, proudly leading it to be named Best Local News Blog in...