State officials urge safety after spike in boating-related fatalities

In response to a stark increase in boating-related fatalities in 2018, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is urging all North Carolinians to practice safe habits while on the water this summer.

A total of 35 people lost their lives across the state due to boating accidents last year, the highest number of vessel-related fatalities since 1990. 29 of the victims were not wearing a life vest.

Five deaths occurred on northeastern N.C. waters in 2018, and four the previous year.

The commission is the state regulatory agency responsible for the enforcement of fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws and provides programs and opportunities for wildlife-related educational, recreational and sporting activities.

“Life jackets should be put on before you enter the boat,” said Maj. Ben Meyer. “Accidents happen fast and there may not be time, even for the strongest swimmers, to put one on in the event of an emergency. Wearing a life jacket can mean the difference between a tragedy and a fun day on the water.”

Officials say it is important to wear a Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Device or life jacket at all times when boating or on a personal watercraft.

A properly fitted life jacket is snug, yet comfortable, and will not move above the chin or ears when lifted at the shoulders. More information on life jacket safety can be found at ncwildlife.org/preserveyourlife.

With warmer weather on the horizon and boating season ramping up, the Commission offers these tips to help boaters remain safe on the water:

  • Appoint a designated driver for the boat. Driving a boat under the influence of alcohol is illegal. Alcohol makes it difficult to drive safely, see objects in the water and ensure the safety of those on board.
  • Assign an adult “Water Watcher” to actively supervise the children in or around the water at all times. A Water Watcher’s role is to focus on watching the water without the distractions of activities, such as socializing, texting, fishing, drinking and reading. Young children and people who are not strong swimmers should always be kept within arm’s reach.
  • Only swim in designated swimming areas. Swimming in open water can lead to increased risk as you are less visible to boaters. Avoid diving in areas that are unfamiliar as there may be hidden boulders, stumps and pilings.
  • Throw, don’t go. Be prepared to throw a flotation device or use a pole or tree branch to reach someone struggling in the water. Never jump in to save someone, because you could be pulled under, too.
  • Attend a Boater Safety Course. Any person born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 must complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators-approved boating education course before operating a vessel propelled by a motor of 10 horsepower or greater. A variety of options, including in-class and online, are available.

Following these safety tips can help ensure that you and your friends and family remain safe on the water this summer.