National Safe Boating Week Highlights the Importance of Always Wearing Life Jackets

Environmental Police Officers from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are partnering with boating safety advocates across the United States and Canada to promote safe and responsible boating during National Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 18-24. Throughout the week, DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) has increased water patrols, conducted boating safety inspections, and provided information on boating safety. As Memorial Day weekend approaches, DEM is reminding boaters to prepare for the season by being responsible and wearing a US Coast Guard (USCG)-approved personal flotation device (PFD).

“The key to safe boating is wearing a life jacket,” said Deputy Chief Michael Schipritt from DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement. “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 just before a boating accident – it’s no different than attempting to buckle your seat belt just before a car crash.”

National Safe Boating Week also marks the official launch of the 2024 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 emphasizes the importance of boating safely, boating sober, knowing navigational rules, and maintaining a proper lookout.

According to the US Coast Guard, drowning was the reported cause of death in 75 percent of all fatal boating accidents, and 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Alcohol remains the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Rhode Island law enforces the same limits (.08 blood alcohol content) and penalties for driving and boating under the influence. Testing standards are also consistent. There are nearly 40,000 registered boats in Rhode Island.

Boaters should be aware of the latest boating safety regulations designed to save lives. Violations could result in a $100 ticket. The current PFD regulation requires all operators and passengers of canoes, kayaks, sailboards, kiteboards, paddleboards, and any other paddle craft to always wear a USCG-approved PFD while underway, regardless of age. Another recent regulation prohibits anyone from riding on the bow of a powerboat unless it’s equipped with bow seats designed to accommodate passengers or from hanging their feet and legs over the top of the gunwale anywhere on the boat while underway.

Additionally, boaters must slow down and move over when emergency vessels — such as USCG, firefighting, harbormaster, and DEM boats — are within 300 feet and have their emergency lights activated. Another regulation requires all fire extinguishers on boats to adhere to their age expiration date, typically printed on the bottom of the extinguisher. The last new regulation pertains to engine cut-off switch compliance. Specifically, the captain of a recreational boat that’s 26 feet long or less and equipped with an engine cut-off switch must use the switch if the boat is “on plane or above displacement speed.” Displacement speed is the speed at which the wavelength of a vessel’s bow wave is equal to the waterline length of the vessel. As boat speed increases, the wavelength of the bow wave also increases.




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