PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The U.S. Coast Guard is urging boaters to be safe ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.
They’re celebrating National Boating Safety Week and say the holiday weekend is the unofficial start of the recreational boating season.
Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Butieries, who is the assistant command center chief for Coast Guard Sector Virginia, says they’ve seen about a 26% increase in boating-related accidents in the past year.
“Virginia is ranked ninth in boating-related fatalities. That’s obviously something we want to get down and reduce,” he said.
Boaters should not drink and boat. Butieries says many incidents are caused by alcohol and can be prevented.
He says education is key and the Coast Guard offers boating safety courses.
“Come up with a plan when you’re out on the water. Identify issues with your boat you potentially had. Maybe there was maintenance you skipped out on over the long winter needs to be underway,” he said.
But the most important safety recommendation from Butieries: wear a life jacket.
He says 80% of boating related fatalities are drownings.
“Out of that 80%, 86% is because they weren’t wearing a life jacket. A lot of them could’ve been saved if they were wearing a life jacket,” he said.
And, no matter you swimming ability, it’s still important to wear one.
“When you’re in the middle of the water, the middle of the ocean, the middle of the bay, you’re not going to tread water for long,” he said. “Most likely the reason why you’re in the water is because you fell out of the boat. Maybe you hit your head on something. You don’t have all your faculties. That life jacket will keep you around till rescuers get out there.”
The Coast Guard also wants to remind those with kayaks and canoes to label them. Butieries says they sometimes have to launch search and rescue for people who aren’t missing.
But, there’s an easy fix.
“It’s a sticker you can put on your kayak or canoe and lets us know who to call to find out if you are in fact missing and direct those resources to that location or return your property,” he said.
Those labels can be picked up at 200 locations across the commonwealth.