The large number of Coast Guard responses — at least 227 from Friday morning to approximately midnight Tuesday — is significantly higher than the same period during the previous four years. Coast Guard officials believe that may be because Independence Day fell on a Monday this year and the weather was favorable for boaters throughout the Great Lakes for the majority of the three-day weekend.
Coast Guardsmen in small boats, cutters and aircraft — as well as members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary — saved 16 lives, assisted 379 people, saved or assisted $2.3 million worth of property, and conducted 591 recreational vessel safety boardings. Of those boardings, nine vessel operators were cited for boating under the influence and the voyages of 22 recreational vessels were terminated due to various safety violations.
The most common safety violation was vessels underway without enough life jackets for everyone aboard or lacking a required throwable floatation device. Other common violations included mariners who weren’t carrying visual distress signals or who had expired flares on board, vessels lacking sound-producing devices, vessels lacking navigation lights, and unregistered or improperly registered vessels underway.
“Safety regulations are in place because they work, and they’re proven to help prevent accidents on the water or drastically increase survivability following accidents,” said Rear Adm. Michael Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District. “Anyone who enjoys water-related activities on the Great Lakes should understand the risks involved, and take necessary steps to ensure they will enjoy their outing and return home safely.”
Despite the sizable number of responses, Coast Guardsmen did report they saw many boaters wearing their life jackets.
“We can never stress enough the importance of wearing a life jacket while underway, so we were thrilled to learn a large number of boaters made the decision to wear one,” said Frank Jennings Jr., recreational boating safety program manager for the Ninth Coast Guard District. “A life jacket is one of the most important pieces of life-saving equipment available to the boating community.”
One thing which continues to be a problem, however, is mariners who chose to drink alcohol while operating vessels.
“Drinking and operating a boat is just as dangerous and irresponsible as drinking and driving an automobile,” Jennings said. “When you combine drinking and boating with a large volume of additional boaters in the area and operating at night in an unfamiliar environment, you have a recipe for disaster. Boat responsibly by leaving the alcohol at home.”