ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary celebrate National Safe Boating Week, May 20 to May 26, urging mariners and beachgoers to practice safe, secure and enjoyable recreational boating throughout Memorial Day weekend.
Considered by many as the unofficial start to the recreational boating season, Memorial Day weekend is a time when many boaters take to the water, increasing the likelihood for search and rescue situations, machinery failures and other types of water accidents.
Most recent findings from our annual recreational boating statistics report indicated that the 2021 recreational boating season involved 4,439 accidents which included 658 deaths and 2,641 injuries. Data also showed that the months of May, June and July had the highest total number of deaths, prompting the Coast Guard and its partner agencies to persistently and consistently inform and educate the public about important water safety messages and resources, especially during this period.
"When operating offshore where cellular phones are unreliable, the U.S. Coast Guard strongly encourages mariners to obtain and register a 406 Mhz EPIRB to notify search and rescue authorities as a last resort," advised Lauren Cefali, Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) Alameda's search and rescue specialist.
Already, our 2021 data showed significant reductions across key variables when compared to 2020: the total number of accidents decreased by 15.7% while the number of deaths and number of injuries decreased by 14.2% and 17.2%, respectively. For these positive trends to continue, the Coast Guard strongly encourages all boaters to adhere to the following recommendations to help ensure safe, secure and enjoyable recreational boating:
- Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket while underway. People don’t typically have time to locate and put on a life jacket during an actual emergency. In fatal recreational boating accidents where cause of death was known, 81% of victims drowned, of which an alarming 83% were not wearing a life jacket, according to 2021 life jacket usage reports.
- Make sure your life jacket is properly fitted. Individuals can slip out of ill-fitting life jackets when they go in the water, which poses a significant safety risk.
- Don’t drink and boat. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 16% of deaths in 2021. Avoiding consumption of alcohol, drugs, and impairing medications while boating helps prevent accidental deaths on the water.
- Make a VHF radio your go-to means of communicating in an emergency. Cell phones may go out of range or lose battery power when needed most. Remember to review the VHF radio’s user instructions.
- Take a boating safety course. In 2021, where instruction was known, 75% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is one of many organizations that offer valuable boating safety courses ranging from electronic navigation to boat handling. Click here to register for a boating safety course.
- Get a vessel safety check. The Coast Guard Auxiliary provides free boating safety checks. Get a free safety inspection from the Coast Guard Auxiliary to help ensure that you have all the gear and safety equipment required by your state and federal laws. Click here to find one near you.
- Review the weather and tides before you head out. It might look like a nice day, but squalls and shifting tides can change suddenly.
- File a float plan. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Float plans provide a starting point to help find you if something happens.
- Dress for the water, not for the weather. Check water temperatures before you go out and dress accordingly.
- Know your navigation rules. Know how to properly navigate waterways and maintain lookouts to keep yourself and everyone else around you safe.
- Keep a locator beacon nearby to help us find you faster. Attaching a functioning emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) to your boat, or a personal locator beacon on your life jacket, and knowing how to use them can help rescuers find and help you. In order to be most effective, these should be registered with the owner’s information and emergency contacts.
- Label kayaks and paddle craft. When the Coast Guard comes across properly labeled paddle crafts, it is easier for rescue personnel to confirm if there is an actual distress.
- Check out the Coast Guard Boating Safety app. You can file a float plan, request assistance, request a vessel safety check, and report pollution and hazards to navigation.
Additionally, beachgoers throughout California should be aware of the dangers along the coast such as cold water, dangerous surf, sneaker waves and rip currents. It is highly recommended that beachgoers look at the surf report to identify hazardous water conditions before visiting beaches.
- Sneaker waves are deadly, larger-than-average swells that suddenly surge much farther up the beach following periods of quiet surf and smaller waves. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recommends that beachgoers watch the waves for 15-30 minutes to identify how far up the beach waves are reaching.
- Rip currents can occur wherever there are breaking waves. They may not pull people under water but can take even the strongest swimmer far out to sea. People caught in a rip current should swim parallel to the shore until they are outside of the rip current, and then swim toward the shoreline.