For Immediate Release - May 17, 2012

State Officials Urge Residents to Follow Safe Boating Practices

BOSTON – Thursday May 17, 2012 – With Memorial Day and Safe Boating Week approaching, the Massachusetts Environmental Police urge boaters to make this a safe boating season. In addition to wearing lifejackets, state officials recommend that boaters take a boating safety course, operate boats only while sober and make sure their boats have the required safety equipment onboard.

“We want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable boating season, so when you’re out on the Commonwealth’s waterways, always remember – safety first,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan. “Wear a lifejacket and encourage friends and family to do the same.”

This year, May 19-26 is Safe Boating Week. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 672 boating fatalities nationwide in 2010. While that’s significantly lower than the 924 in 1991, nearly 75 percent of all 2010 boating fatalities were due to drowning. Of those who drowned, 88 percent were not wearing a lifejacket.

Click here for more information about national accident statistics.

Despite warmer weather, Massachusetts Environmental Police Director Col. Aaron Gross is also cautioning boaters that water temperatures are still cool and boaters should take precautions to prevent hypothermia.

“A personal floatation device, or lifejacket, may be the most important piece of safety equipment for any boater, but that won’t do it alone," said Director Gross. "Always travel at reasonable speeds and always avoid operating boats under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Environmental police officers will be patrolling rivers, lakes and coastal waters across the Commonwealth throughout the season to enforce state and federal recreational boating laws."

These sentiments were echoed by Lt. Garrett Meyer of Coast Guard Sector Boston.

"It is hard to beat time spent enjoying our local waters here in the northeast,” said Lt. Meyer. “However there are many risks associated with boating which are further amplified if you head out unprepared, operate your vessel carelessly, or disregard safety requirements."

In Massachusetts, most boating fatalities occur as the result of boaters failing to wear a lifejacket or not having the appropriate lifejackets onboard. Last year, there were 67 reported boating accidents in Massachusetts resulting in ten fatalities, up from 60 reported boating accidents in Massachusetts resulting in 16 fatalities in 2010. Drowning was the number one cause of fatalities in both years, and none of those victims wore lifejackets.

Operating any vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited. Boaters are also prohibited from operating within 150 feet of a public or private swimming area. All boaters are reminded to operate their vessels at reasonable speeds based on the existing conditions, including traffic density, weather and visibility.

Under Massachusetts law, boaters under the age of 12 may not operate a motorboat unless accompanied and supervised by an adult. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 must complete an approved boating course. Children under the age of 16 may not operate a personal watercraft. Personal watercraft operators between the ages of 16 and 18 must pass an approved boating safety course prior to operation. All boats are required to carry life preservers, fire extinguishers, and navigation lights. A paddle or an oar is required on boats less than 16 feet long.

The Environmental Police also caution inland boaters about swift moving rivers, which can lead to unpredictable water hazards, including floating debris. In addition, water temperatures in coastal waters and rivers and lakes at this time of year can be as cool as 40 degrees – a temperature that can cause hypothermia and offset even a strong swimmer's ability to swim safely to shore.

All boating accidents must be reported to the Massachusetts Environmental Police at 800-632-8075. The Environmental Police encourage boaters of all ages and experience to take a safe boating course.

Click here for registration information and links to nationally approved course providers.

For more information on safe boating courses, contact the Environmental Police Boat and Recreational Vehicle Safety Bureau at 508-759-0002.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Office of Law Enforcement – known also as the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) – is the primary agency responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth’s fish and game and boating and recreational vehicle laws. MEP officers, while authorized to enforce all general laws, focus on laws and regulations related to the protection of natural resources and public parks and land; boat and recreational vehicle use; and hazardous waste disposal. MEP officers serve as stewards of the state’s natural resources, patrolling forests, parks, inland waterways and coastal waters throughout the Commonwealth.

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