Over the upcoming long weekend, families around the state will head to lakes and ponds to enjoy some of the activities that make summers in Maine so fun.
They’ll launch their power boats, and go for a paddle in canoes, and gather up the kids for a leisurely kayak trip along the shore.
And sadly, some won’t come back.
OK, I’ll admit that’s a bit of hyperbole. There’s no guarantee that we’ll have any boating disaster this weekend.
But we could. And few of us even bother to worry about that sad reality.
Doubt it? Consider this: According to Duane Minton, local division commander of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, fatalities — especially among those in small craft — are pretty common up here in the Northeast, where the water is cold and unforgiving.
“The Coast Guard is asking us to focus [safety outreach efforts] on paddlecraft because there have been so many accidents and fatalities involving paddlecraft,” Minton said. “There were 29 [fatalities in 2016] in New England and 26 of them weren’t wearing life jackets.”
You may not have heard about it, but this is National Safe Boating Week, a week designed to jumpstart safety conversations and keep boaters aware of the hazards that may exist on the water. But the Coast Guard Auxiliary is always spreading the safety message, whether people want to listen or not.
Unfortunately, they’re often not.
“In the Bangor area, since Jan. 1, we’ve set up five safety training opportunities. We’ve had no one sign up. No one,” Minton said. “We’re feeling frustrated that people aren’t signing up, yet people are getting killed.”
Minton said one of his fears is that vacationers can come to Maine, rent a place on a lake or pond, and decide to purchase a cheap kayak for their children to use … without knowing the first thing about safety.
He said he hopes to enlist the help from big box stores to spread a safety message to their customers.
“[Kayaking] is the fastest growing watersport. Low cost. No fuel. It’s green, it’s good exercise, so there’s a lot of people out there doing it. I would like to see these box stores setting up a display in their stores and selling a safety package with the kayaks,” Minton said.
According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, sales of new powerboats increased across the country in 2017, reaching 216,000.
Here in Maine, the retail sale of new boats, engines and marine accessories accounted for $193.3 million, and the state’s recreational boating industry has an annual economic impact of $844 million, according to the NMMA.
That’s a lot of boats. And unfortunately, a lot of chances for a wonderful day on the water to turn tragic.
The Maine Warden Service also observed National Boating Safety Week, and shared a few tips I hope you’ll consider this weekend (and beyond).
The first won’t surprise you, but if like many of us, you still might not consider it a necessity, especially after the water warms up.
Wear a life jacket.
“Although May is not considered to be the height of boating activity here in Maine, Safe Boating Week provides a great opportunity to remind those who are already recreating on the water to remember these important tips,” the Maine Warden Service press release read. “Remember the dangers of springtime water temperatures. If you think you have enough time to get to your life jacket or a crash or incident, think again.”
But life jackets aren’t the only object that safe boaters need to have on board.
The release also cautions boaters to make sure they have working navigation lights, sound signaling devices and properly displayed registration numbers. If you have a fire extinguisher or flares on board, check their expiration dates.
And when you head onto the water, set an itinerary. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
Then, stick to your plan.
After several months of “rough sledding” here in Maine, it’s wonderful that days are getting longer and warmer, and many outdoor pursuits become seasonal again.
Here’s hoping everyone has a great holiday weekend. Stay safe!
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke