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National Safe Boating Week Kicks Off On May 19th

Wear It! Campaign reminds boaters to wear a life jacket each and every time they are on the water

PROVIDENCE Environmental Police Officers from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are teaming up with boating safety advocates across the United States and Canada to promote safe and responsible boating and consistent life jacket wear during National Safe Boating Week. It runs from May 19 to May 25. Throughout the week, DEM's Division of Law Enforcement will increase water patrols, conduct boating safety inspections, and provide information on boating safety in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

National Safe Boating Week also is the official launch of the 2018 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 reminds boaters of the importance of boating safely, boating sober, knowing navigational rules, and having a proper lookout.

"The key to safe boating is the life jacket," said Lieutenant Steven Criscione, boating safety program manager for 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 before a boating accident no different than attempting to buckle your seat belt before a car crash."

According to Lieutenant Criscione, in the past few years, the U.S. Coast Guard has noted an alarming increase in fatalities of canoeists, kayakers, and paddleboarders. In District One, which covers from New Jersey to Maine, there were 49 deaths reported with 29 of these deaths being canoeists and kayakers. Among these paddle craft deaths, over 80 percent drowned and were not wearing a life jacket. All operators of paddle craft including paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks are required to have a life jacket readily available; boating safety advocates recommend all boaters including boaters using paddle craft and passengers "Wear It" at all times while on the water.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, drowning was the reported cause of death in four out of every five boating fatalities in 2016, and 83 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Kayakers and canoeists accounted for 22 percent of all deaths reported nationally; eight out of every 10 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length. In accidents where the level of operator education was known, 77 percent of boating deaths occurred on vessels where the boat operator never received boating education instruction. There are nearly 40,000 registered boats in Rhode Island. DEM's Division of Law Enforcement responded to 51 boating accidents in 2017; these incidents resulted in four fatalities and 17 injuries.

Just this week at Lincoln Woods State Park, a boater who was not wearing a life jacket fell out of his vessel and nearly drowned. Luckily, a kayaker was in the area and observed the unoccupied boat going in circles in Olney Pond, and alerted environmental police officers. The officers responded and retrieved the boater from the island he swam to after falling from the vessel.

Important Reminders Children under 13 years old must wear an approved life jacket on recreational craft unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. Make sure life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard-approved. Double-check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities. Today, life jackets are stylish, versatile, comfortable, and lightweight. New technology allows many to inflate automatically when immersed in water. Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can be hazardous. Life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to "grow into."

Today's Life Jackets Offer Style, Variety and Comfort Most boaters know they're required to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board for every passenger on their boat. Boating safety advocates recommend that all boaters and passengers not only have a life jacket, but 'Wear It!' always while boating. Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket.

The good news is that today's life jackets are much more comfortable, lightweight, and stylish than the bulky orange style most boaters know. Life jackets that use inflatable technologies are cool and comfortable. They may resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack. Many inflate automatically when immersed in water. A variety of life jacket styles are available for almost any boating activity, including:

Fishing: Vest-style life jackets come with features such as pockets and clips to replace the fishing vest and keep the angler safe. Personal watercraft and water sports: Inherently buoyant lighter-weight life jackets are rugged, with multiple buckles and clasps to keep them secure after impact with the water. Hunting and cold weather: Full coats and suits are available in camouflage colors for waterfowl hunting and for those who boat when air and water temperatures are cool. Paddling: Special life jackets are designed with large openings for arms to allow ease of movement and there are belt style life jackets worn on the waist.

Practically all styles of life jackets are available and sized especially for children some with cartoon characters, straps for pulling children from the water and high-visibility schemes. And, life jackets are even available for pets. It's helpful to purchase one with a handle on top to easily pull your pet out of the water, if needed.

No matter what the activity or style chosen, the most important thing is this: Remember to grab a life jacket and 'Wear It!'

Wear It! unites the efforts of a wide variety of boating safety advocates, including the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and Canadian Safe Boating Council with the National Safe Boating Council. It is produced under a grant from the Sports Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

For more information on Rhode Island boating laws and regulations including the mandatory boating safety education requirement and certification process, please visit or contact the Division of Law Enforcement at 401-222-2284. Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at for timely updates.

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  • Department or agency: Department of Environmental Management
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  • Release date: 05-17-2018

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