Coast Guard Auxiliary partners with Kitty Hawk Kites to launch boating, water safety program

Vice Commander Horst of the Outer Banks Flotilla overseeing the Gentle Expert Memorycare (GEM) team as they assembled the water safety packets. [submitted photo]

As we move into the heart of the busiest summer on record for OBX tourism, The Coast Guard Auxiliary has partnered with Kitty Hawk Kites on an innovative program to raise tourist awareness around boating and water safety.

Every week, more than 200,000 visitors flock to our beaches and waterways, many of them renting Pontoon boats, jet skis, kayaks and paddleboards to better enjoy their time with us.

Unfortunately, not everyone that swims, boats or paddles in our waters is aware of the key safety precautions that can help ensure a pleasurable stay.

According to the 2020 Coast Guard Boating Safety Statistics Report, there were almost 800 boating fatalities in 2020, with open motorboat, pontoon boat and kayak accidents accounting for 75% of the deaths. Drowning was the cause of death in 75% of cases and an astounding 89% of those who drowned were not wearing a life jacket. The top five contributors in these 800 boating deaths were alcohol, operator inexperience, operator inattentiveness, excessive speed and weather. The common denominator among all of these factors is that with proper understanding of the dangers, all can be virtually eliminated.

Here’s where the partnership kicked in. The Auxiliary created a “Welcome to the OBX” package containing a number of brochures describing key aspects of water safety including how to pick the right life jacket, how to handle our dangerous rip currents and key considerations for safe operation for all types of paddlecraft. The packages also contain a whistle, which satisfies the state law requiring than anyone operating any sort of vessel (including kayaks and paddleboards) have a whistle capable of being heard from ½ mile away.

Kitty Hawk Kites is giving one of these packages to each of their customers who rent any sort of watercraft, with the expectation that the insight provided by the information will result in safer experiences on the water. Additionally, Kitty Hawk Kites provides a safety briefing of local waterways, operations of the watercraft, and emergency procedures to ensure customer safety so all can enjoy our waterways.

Assembly of the water safety packages was aided immensely by the efforts of our local Gentle Expert Memorycare (GEM) team who pitched in to make our project the focus of their July get together. GEM is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing quality services to adults with memory loss, physical and mental disabilities, and those in need of socialization.

In the excitement of getting to the rental house and beginning to enjoy vacation, we know that not all of our visitors will have water safety at the top of their mind. Our hope through this great partnership is that we raise awareness of key water safety issues to the point where the “avoidable” reasons for tragic outcomes can be eliminated.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the U.S. Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939.

For more information about a boating course near you or to learn more about water safety or becoming one of America’s Volunteer Lifesavers, please visit www.cgaux.org