OUTDOOR CORNER: Safety should be a priority while on the water

Lyle Johnson
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office investigates a collision between a bass boat and personal water craft that sent four people to the hospital. Focusing on safety can reduce tragedy on the water.

I was sitting on my pier last weekend after cutting the grass noticing the numbers of boats on the Diversion Canal was increasing. This is nothing unusual as temperatures are rising to near summertime levels and folks are ready to get “on the water.”

There was a really big boat heading my way and I noticed two jet skis following close behind; a little too close if you know what I mean. This is a very popular way for those operating the personal water craft to jump waves. This is a lot of fun I’m sure, but it’s also very dangerous.

As summer arrives more and more boats will be on the water so the opportunities for boating accidents will be on the rise as well. Along with those opportunities for accidents will come the possibility of fatalities. Louisiana ranks 16th in the number of boats on the water in the nation but we rank fifth in the number of fatalities.

Our location in the state is Region 7 that contains the parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana. In 2009, out of nine regions, two strike forces and one special division unit, Region 7 was at the top of the list for boating violations. And just like any safety statistical program, more incidents usually result in more accidents.

There were 152 boating accidents investigated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries in 2009 and 25 of those incidents involved fatalities that resulted in 32 deaths. Alcohol was the number one cause of the fatal incidents at 24 percent. Operator inattention was the number one cause of overall incidents while the most common type of incident was hitting a fixed object.

Of the fatalities, 17 were proven to be by drowning and 15 of those weren’t wearing personal flotation devices. Of the operators involved in the incidents where the formal boating education level was determined, approximately 80 percent had no formal boating education.

But in the maze of statistics are people that are not here any longer and the families that have to deal with that tragic loss. Mothers that have lost children, brothers that have lost sisters and children that have lost parents. The hurt brought about by those losses are not measurable and don’t have a place in the statistics. I can think back to two incidents in the past that involved friends of mine that resulted in seven deaths. I can still see their faces.

Of all the causes listed, a large percentage of accidents and fatalities could be prevented by changing three things. First; alcohol and water don’t mix. If you’re going to be the driver, don’t drink.

Second; wearing a personal floatation device really saves lives. Only 4.1 percent of boaters observed over a five year period were wearing them. Third; pay attention. A driver not watching where they are going or what they are doing is a big factor in all incidents.

I work in the Petro-chemical industry where safety is a must and well regulated. Drug and alcohol procedures have reduced those incidents to a very minimum. Personal protective equipment is mandatory and well enforced.

The one item that can’t be regulated in industry or anywhere else for that fact is the paying attention part. That’s a learned behavior that unfortunately is learned at the school of hard knocks or at someone else’s expense.

I love riding on the water in a boat. Most of the time it’s on a fishing trip but a boat ride taking in the beauty of our state is incredible as well and enjoyable to just about anyone. But each individual has some choices to make as to how the day might end up.

The choices you make could end up with a great day on the water with memories that last a lifetime. Some end up at the hospital and unfortunately for 32 individuals in 2009, they ended up at a funeral home. Boating is a great outdoor activity; don’t let yours end up in tragedy. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God bless you.