Saturday was the start of National Safe Boating Week: “Wear it” is the catch-phrase, words that the National Safe Boating Council is pushing around the country this week.
For us in Louisiana, that’s missing the point.
Being in a boat is a year-round proposition here. Our climes here mean fishing, skiing, touring a lake and hunting can keep us on the water every day in some corner of our state.
It took our state officials a long time to figure out that our children would be safer on the water if we made wearing life jackets mandatory for anyone 12 and younger in a powered boat. That’s not to criticize, but to praise folks who were bold enough to break with whatever tradition there existed here that wearing a life jacket wasn’t, well, manly.
Yet, after nearly 10 years under this mandate, state Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Division agents issued 283 citations and 322 written warnings for boating safety violations in April alone. Among those were more than 30 citations to adults for children not wearing life jackets while the boat was powering along.
That’s shameful, and leaves no wonder why the latest statistics from the Council ranks our state sixth in boating fatalities.
Already this year, our state has rolled up 12 boating deaths. Last year’s total topped 30 fatalities.
What’s worse is that every year, eight in every 10 boating fatalities listed in the LDWF’s monthly report has the sentence, “No PFDs were used” — PFD, personal flotation device, is the bureaucartic term for a life jacket.
Just to show you that Louisiana has lots of company, here’s a paragraph from the report the Council issued last week: “U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in three-fourths of recreational boating fatalities in 2010, and that 88 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. That’s why boating safety advocates continue to push for increased and consistent life jacket wear on the water.”
The height of the boating season in our country starts next weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, and thoughts often are with the men and women who gave their lives so we can enjoy the pleasures our freedoms allow.
Boating and fishing are high on many Louisianians “pleasure” lists, and I wonder what those men and women we’ll honor in the next days would think if we could, would and should save lives by the simple act of wearing a life jacket.
Breaking old habits is a tough proposition, but when we look at April’s safe boating violations in our state, something has to change.
And just a week after honoring our mothers, maybe it’s time to call on all the mothers of all the fishermen and boaters in our state to tell the significant others in their lives that they and their children must have life jackets on before the boat leaves the dock.
Mothers have a special power to make their wishes come true. This is one time I hope they insist on wearing life jackets.