Across the U.S. and Canada, the week of May 18 -24 is North American Safe Boating Week and once again its theme is Boat Smart from the Start. Wear Your Life Jacket.
This is the week to learn
about those life jackets
Why would the Safe Boating Week's organizers repeat the same theme, you ask? Simply because it offers boaters the best way to reduce the leading cause of fatalities in recreational boating: drowning.
In general, boating has become safer in regard to fatalities. Compared with 10 years ago, when 924 boating deaths were recorded in the U.S., recorded fatalities in 2000 were down to 701. And that was with an increase of some two million registered boats.
Nevertheless, of those 701 fatalities, 519 were due to drowning and 445 -- nearly 86 percent of the victims -- were not wearing life jackets.
One of the reasons boaters often don't wear life jackets, experts say, is because many believe just having them nearby is sufficient. In an emergency, such as a capsizing, people think they will be able to grab one and put it on once they're in the water.
The experts note that such a maneuver is really not so easy. Donning a life jacket while treading water requires practice, skill and dexterity.
They point out that life jackets today are more attractive and comfortable than ever and when properly fitted, they can prevent a tragedy for both the wearer and the wearer's family.
This is especially true aboard the boats most likely to capsize: those under 26 feet in length - Hawaii's most commonly owned vessels.
Because the U.S. Coast Guard is one of Safe Boating Week's organizers and its auxiliary, along with the U.S. Power Squadron, are the primary boating safety educators in our state, all three will be involved in programs to kick off the week next Saturday.
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Pacific Ocean Producers will be holding its annual Safe Boating Week Open House at its facility located on Pier 35 at 965-B Nimitz Hwy.
The Coast Guard will be providing several demonstrations including: damage control, life raft deployment, use of life jackets, use of fire extinguishers and use of hand-held flares.
Along with plenty of free refreshments and in-store specials, there will be drawings for more than 200 prizes, including a one-day charter for two aboard the sportfisher Maggie Joe.
The parking lot of the Waikiki Yacht Club, adjacent to Magic Island in Ala Moana Park, will be the location for another Safe Boating Week kickoff.
The gates will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and activities will include demonstrations by the Honolulu Harbor Pilots, the Honolulu Fire Department and its fire boat Mokuahi, a helicopter rescue basket operation and tours of the Coast Guard Cutter Kittiwake.
Exhibitor booths will also be displaying information about the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Power Squadron, West Marine, Ala Wai Marine, the Sea Scouts and the state's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.
Go to one open house or both. It will be a great way to learn more about safe boating and about those who devote their lives to making it safer.
Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.