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Put safety first: Safe Boating Awareness Week

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With the unofficial kick-off to summer over the May long weekend, many boating enthusiasts will soon be taking to nearby lakes and rivers.

Saturday also marked the start of Safe Boating Awareness Week, which runs from May 18-25, 2013.

“It coincides with the May 24 long weekend. Typically that’s when most accidents do occur on the water,” said Dennis Cook, public relations officer with the Tillsonburg Power and Sail Squadron. “People are out on boats for the first time this year, they’re excited, the temperatures are warm and the kids are happy.”

Safe Boating Awareness Week is a good time said Cook, to educate the public and remind people, especially boaters and paddlers, about safety on the water.

Members of the Tillsonburg Power and Sail Squadron is one organization that helps highlight the facts about boating safety.

“We educate people on safe boating, what they should be looking for and what they should be doing,” he said. “In reality, safe boating practices are a continual thing but this week kicks it off and gets boaters set for the season.”

Statistics show just how important it is for people to take boating safety seriously.

Last year in 2012, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) investigated 20 fatal boating incidents in the province, where 22 individuals lost their lives. Twelve of them were boat operators and ten were passengers. Eighteen of the 22 victims were not wearing personal floatation devices and seven of last year’s boating deaths involved alcohol consumption.

Cook said boating safety begins with taking necessary steps to ensure an enjoyable yet safe time on the water and pointed to several tips for boaters and paddlers to keep in mind this summer and throughout the boating season.

“The main one to me would be wear your lifejacket – if you do have a problem, your lifejacket is going to be your lifesaver,” he said.

Other points include do not drink and drive, take a boating skills course and be prepared for any situation that may arise.

“Let’s say it’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and you’ve just launched your boat for the start of another season on the water,” said Cook. “Everybody’s on board excited about the day and so off you go. Now everything’s fine but you’ve got a mechanical problem – you’ve run aground, you’ve hit something. It doesn’t matter how you maintain your boat, things happen.”

Being prepared means having several items on board in case of an emergency.

“Boaters should have a set of flares, a radio that they can contact either the coast guard or someone if they’ve got problems, maybe a cell phone, blankets and food,” he explained. “A lot of boats don’t have room for a lot of food but have something to tie you over for 2 or 3 hours.”

There is a list of recommended items that people should have on every vessel, including a personal watercraft, Cook noted.

Another important tip to remember is that water at this time of year can still be quite chilly and knowing water temperatures and how to prevent hypothermia will also help keep boaters and paddlers safe.

“A lot of people consider themselves to be excellent swimmers but you must keep in the back of your mind that the water may be 30 degrees colder than your body temperature. Then hypothermia can set in.”

During Safe Boating Awareness Week and anytime throughout the boating season, said Cook, boating safety should always be a priority and something for residents here in Tillsonburg and across Ontario to heed.

“I think the main message we want people to get from Safe Boating Awareness Week is, be prepared, be aware and be safe.”

For more information on boating safety, visit the Canadian Safe Boating Council at www.csbc.ca

kristine.jean@sunmedia.ca

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