PROVIDENCE, RI – 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, which runs from May 21-May 27. Throughout the week, DEM's Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) will increase water patrols, conduct boating safety inspections, and provide information on boating safety in partnership with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.
DLE will join the RI Bomb Squad and West Marine to host two safety flare collection events this year. Boaters may bring their expired flares to a West Marine location for proper disposal. There are two collection events:
When: Saturday, May 21, from 9 AM to 3 PM Where: West Marine, 399 Bald Hill Rd, Warwick
When: Sunday, May 22, from 9 AM to 3 PM Where: West Marine, 379 W Main Rd, Middletown
"The key to safe boating is wearing a life jacket," said Lieutenant Michael Schipritt, Rhode Island's Boating Law Administrator 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 – it's no different than attempting to buckle your seat belt before a car crash."
Environmental Police Officers also will have an information kiosk set up at Arnold Lumber in South Kingstown on May 26 , 2-5 PM. No flares will be accepted at this location. National Safe Boating Week also is the official launch of the 2022 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.
According to the US Coast Guard, drowning was the reported cause of death in 76 percent of all fatal boating accidents, and 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. 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, 81 percent of boating deaths occurred on vessels where the boat operator never received boating education instruction. Alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. There are nearly 40,000 registered boats in Rhode Island. In 2021, DLE responded to 64 boating accidents, conducted 1,735 recreational boat boardings, made nine boating safety related arrests, issued 69 boating safety related citations, and 354 boating safety related warnings.
o Children under 13 must wear an approved life jacket on recreational craft unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin.
o Make sure life jackets are US Coast Guard-approved.
o Double-check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities. Today's life jackets are stylish, versatile, comfortable, and lightweight. New technology allows many to inflate automatically when immersed in water.
o Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can be hazardous.
o 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."
Most boaters know they're required to have a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board for every passenger on their boat. All operators of paddle craft including paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks also 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. 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:
o Fishing: Vest-style life jackets come with features such as pockets and clips to replace the fishing vest and keep the angler safe.
o 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.
o 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.
o 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. 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!
The United States and Canada have recently adopted a new labeling system for life jackets that features use-specific numeric codes and universal pictures and symbols. When purchasing a new life jacket, boaters should pay attention to the label to be sure that the life jacket is appropriate for its intended activity.
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 US Coast Guard.
For more information on Rhode Island boating laws and regulations including the mandatory boating safety education requirement and certification process, please visit our website or contact DLE at 401-222-2284.
For more information on DEM programs and services, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@RhodeIsland.DEM).