North Carolina saw the most boating deaths the state has experienced since 1990 with 35 people losing their lives on the water.
Now, with the weather warming and a holiday approaching, officials are reminding boaters to be vigilant in their safety plans. N.C. Wildlife held a press conference on Wednesday to speak about boating safety in advance of Memorial Day.
“A lot of people died last year, unfortunately,” Barbara Smith, N.C. Wildlife law enforcement officer, said.
Many incidents that result in injury and death, according to N.C. Wildlife Senior Officer Tyler Ingle, involve people being careless with their safety preparations.
“They’re in a rush to get in the water and they might not even know where they’re equipment is,” Ingle said.
Life jackets are required by law on all boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards out on the water, according to Smith.
Children under 13, according to Smith, are required to wear a life jacket at all times out on the water. While it is not required for those older than 13 to wear life jackets, it is strongly encouraged.
“Wearing a life jacket can save your life,” Ingle said.
While there are many things that can go wrong aboard a boat, according to Ingle, the most common problem is not having sufficient life jackets on board. In fact, he said, 29 of the deaths last year involved victims not wearing life jackets.
That included two deaths in Eastern North Carolina. In June 2018, two Dover men drowned in the Northeast Cape Fear River near the Hallsville community in Duplin County, The Daily News reported. None of the boat's six passengers were wearing life jackets when the 14-foot Pelican boat began taking on water and everyone jumped out, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission officials said at the time, and two of the six boaters drowned.
There is a common hubris expressed by people who are good swimmers, N.C. Wildlife Enforcement Officer Kayla Herrera said, because they don’t think falling in the water is a problem they need to be concerned with. But this is a misleading way of looking at the problem.
“If you’re in a boat accident and you get knocked out unconscious — you can’t swim if you’re unconscious,” Herrera said.
Many life jackets are designed in such a way that the body naturally rotates to leave the person face up, according to Herrera, ensuring they can breath even when unconscious.
Along with life jackets, Smith said, boats longer than 16 feet are required to carry Type 4 throwables. These are large squares made of the same material as life jackets that can be tossed to a person who has fallen overboard.
Boats of all sizes are also required to carry a Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher with the gauge pointing to the green setting.
While she said she does not know of anyone who has died due to a boat fire, Herrera said boat fires are themselves not rare.
“Usually it’s an electrical issue,” Herrera said. “Something catches fire … flames just erupt at the back of the boat and usually people just have to jump overboard.”
N.C. Wildlife officials also stressed that alcohol consumption by a captain is dangerous and illegal.
While officials won’t necessarily pull over a boat for drunk driving, according to Smith, an officer may conduct a sitting sobriety test on a boat’s captain once pulled over for another infraction.
“Don’t drink and boat,” Herrera said. “Have a designated driver.”
Reporter Maxim Tamarov can be reached at 910-219-8439 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For digital subscription information, click here.