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May 21-27 Marks Safe Boating Week in America
June 1, 2011
It's Safe Boating Week in America, May 21-27. And as America celebrates its love affair with life on the water, it seems there's no place where observing safe boating is more important than in Michigan.
With almost 3,300 miles of Great Lakes coastline, more than 10,000 inland lakes and some 36,000 miles or rivers ad streams, it's a wonder everyone in Michigan doesn't own a boat. (If you go to the local boat ramp on a busy weekend, you'd swear everyone in Michigan does own a boat!)
Michigan ranks fourth among the states for registered boats, trailing only Florida, California and Minnesota is the number of boats.
As of May 2, a total of 918,871 watercraft were registered in Michigan. (Keep in mind that non-motorized canoes, kayaks and boats less than 16 feet do not have to be registered, so there are even more boats out there.)
That's a lot of boats. And the potential for a lot of boating accidents.
But boating is a surprisingly safe activity, all things considered. In 2010 there were 135 boating accidents reported in Michigan, resulting in 28 fatalities. And while everyone, especially the Department of Natural Resources, will tell you that's still too many accidents, boating fatalities are trending downward. In 1970, when there were only half as many boats (450,000) registered in Michigan, there were almost three times as many (79) fatalities.
"We are getting a lot better," said Sgt. Al Bavarkas, the marine safety specialist with the DNR's Law Enforcement Division.
The biggest cause of boating fatalities - more than 70 percent is drowning.
"More than 80 percent of the drownings in the United States are due to people not wearing their life jackets," Bavarskas said, "In most of the drowning accidents, people have life jackets on their boats, they're just not wearing them."
That's the first rule - wear your PFD (personal floatation device).
In Michigan, anyone 6 years of age or younger must wear a life jacket when on the open deck of any vessel. But wearing a PFD is recommended for everyone.
Bavarskas says the DNR is involved in a national safe boating campaign designed specifically to encourage people to wear PFDs.
It's important that people choose proper PFDs; that they fit properly, are appropriate for the wearer's weight, and are comfortable (so you'll wear them!). The recent trend - inflatable PFDs - goes a long way toward addressing those issues.
Inflatables, which are designed with simple harnesses, can be draped across the neck so the wearer barely feels its presence. But if a person falls overboard, he or she can quickly inflate it with a simple pull cord, usually attached to a CO2 cartridge.
So Bavarskas is participating in an event that kicks off Saturday, May 21, a program called Ready-Set-Inflate. The idea is promote everyone wearing PFDs at all times when on the water.
Besides wearing a PFD, boaters can reduce their chances of marine accidents by observing a few simple guidelines:
Meanwhile, as personal watercraft become increasingly popular, boaters should know that some special rules apply:
If you are interested in a boating safety class, you can go to http://www.michigan.gov/dnr, click on Education and Outreach, select "Hunter Education and Recreational Safety Classes", and you can search for a class in your area. Last year, more than 21,000 people in Michigan took boating safety classes.
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