Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Deputy Secretary Kara Coats and Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police officers and staff joined Sen. Ernie Lopez, Rep. Harvey Kenton, U.S. Coast Guard members and USCG Auxiliary members recently began National Safe Boating Week, May 20-26, at the DNREC Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police Boat Dock in Lewes.

Delaware, which has one of the lower boating accident rates in the country, had 32 reported boating accidents and one fatality last year, with five accidents and two fatalities so far this year.

“Though some accidents are unavoidable, we need everyone on our waterways to be alert, use common sense and avoid actions that will put themselves, their passengers and other boaters at risk,” said Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police Chief Drew Aydelotte.

Statistics support the role of wearing life jackets in keeping boaters safe. In 2015, three-quarters of all boating-related fatalities nationwide were drowning victims, and more than 80 percent were not wearing life jackets, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. “Boating accidents can happen very fast — and there’s no time to reach for a stowed lifejacket and put it on. Like seatbelts in automobiles, we know without question that lifejackets save lives,” said Lt. John McDerby, Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources police boating safety coordinator.

Recent Coast Guard statistics show alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. In Delaware, the same blood alcohol limit used to measure intoxication in automobile drivers applies to boat operators: 0.08 or above is legally intoxicated. Boat operators found to be at or over the limit face fines and potential jail time, as well as putting themselves and their passengers at risk.

“The best way to minimize the risk of an accident is to make the wise choice — don’t drink and boat,” said McDerby, noting boaters should plan to have a nondrinking designated boat operator aboard if alcohol is being consumed.

Taking a boating safety course can also improve skills and reduce the chances of an accident. Coast Guard statistics show that in states where instructional data was available, 80 percent of reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.

Under Delaware law, all persons born on or after Jan. 1, 1978, must complete a boating safety course in order to operate a boat in Delaware waters, including personal watercraft.

“We recommend that everyone who is going to operate a boat in Delaware waters take a safety course first, regardless of whether or not they are required to do so,” McDerby said.

Delaware’s required eight-hour basic boating safety course is offered statewide in multiple locations, with an approved online version also available. Boaters required to take the course receive a boating safety certificate, which must be carried with them while boating as proof of course completion.

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