For Immediate Release - September 02, 2010

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

Labor Day weekend brings increased traffic to Bay State waters

BOSTON - September 1, 2010 - On the eve of the Labor Day weekend, the Massachusetts Environmental Police are reminding boaters of safety guidelines, including the importance of wearing lifejackets.

"Whether paddling on an inland river or motoring along the seashore, be safe on the water. Wearing a life jacket, and encouraging others to do the same, is the best way to protect against the unexpected," said Secretary Ian Bowles, an avid boater whose secretariat includes the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP). "Massachusetts is a premiere destination for anglers, sailors, kayakers and power boaters, let's do our best to keep it safe."

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.

"Boating accidents can end in tragedy. That is why it's so important for boat operators and their passengers to wear personal floatation devices. We urge operators to travel at reasonable speeds and never operate boats under the influence of alcohol or drugs," said Director Gross, whose agency is responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth's boating and recreational vehicle laws. "This weekend, our officers will be patrolling rivers, lakes and coastal waters across the state."

In 2008, more than 72 percent of all fatalities from boating accidents nationally 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 14 boating related fatalities in Massachusetts this 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 10 fatalities in 2009. In 2008, there were 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 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 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.

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. Boat safety course registration information and links to nationally approved course providers.

For 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 - 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.