For Immediate Release - May 27, 2010

Environmental Officials Remind Citizens and Visitors to Practice Safe Boating, Wear Life Jackets

Memorial Day weekend brings increased traffic to Bay State waters

BOSTON - May 27, 2010 - On the eve of the Memorial Day weekend and National Safe Boating Week, the Massachusetts Environmental Police are reminding boaters of safety guidelines, including the importance of wearing lifejackets.

"Massachusetts is home to rivers, lakes and coastal waters that are ideal for boating," said Secretary Ian Bowles, an avid boater whose secretariat includes the Massachusetts Environmental Police. "While you're out enjoying sailing, canoeing or power-boating, remember to wear your life jacket and encourage others to do the same. When you're on the water, safety first."

In addition to wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs), commonly known as lifejackets, officials urge boaters to take a boating safety course, operate boats only while sober and make sure their boats have the required safety equipment onboard. Massachusetts Environmental Police Director Col. Aaron Gross also cautioned boaters that water temperatures are still cool and that boaters should take precautions to prevent hypothermia.

"A personal floatation device is the most important piece of safety equipment for any boater," said Director Gross, whose agency is responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth's boating and recreational vehicle laws. "We want to remind boat operators to travel at reasonable speed and never operate boats under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Our officers will be patrolling rivers, lakes and coastal waters across the Commonwealth this weekend and throughout the season to enforce state and federal recreational boating laws."

May 22-28 is National Safe Boating Week. In 2008, more than 72 percent of all fatalities nationally from boating accidents were due to drowning, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Of those who drowned, 90 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Click here for more information about national accident statistics.

There have been five boating related fatalities in Massachusetts, year to date. Most boating fatalities are the result of boaters failing to wear a lifejacket or not having the appropriate lifejackets on board the vessel. There were 60 boating accidents resulting in 10 fatalities in 2009. In 2008, there were 100 boating accidents resulting in 13 fatalities. During both years, most fatalities were drownings and none of the victims wore life jackets. Nationally, there were 709 boating fatalities in 2008, down from 924 in 1991, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Director Gross noted that each boat should come equipped with one personal floatation device, or life jacket, for each person in the vessel. Massachusetts law requires children under the age of 12, all persons riding personal watercrafts such as Jet Skis or Sea-Doos, and all water skiers and tubers to wear approved life jackets.

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 a reasonable speed based on the existing conditions which include traffic density, weather and visibility.

Under Massachusetts law, boaters under the age of 12 may not operate a motorboat unless accompanied and supervised 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 age 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.

Inland boaters are also cautioned about swift moving water conditions, 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.

2010 Boat Safety Course Schedule

Quincy - Hough's Neck Maritime Center - starting May 24, 6 to 9:30 p.m.

Hingham - Hingham Town Hall - starting May 25, 7 to 10 p.m.

Williamstown - Mt. Greylock High School - one day on June 26, 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.

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 enforce 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.