COVID-19 is forcing everyone to navigate uncharted waters, including boaters. For the annual celebration of National Safe Boating Week, taking place this week, the National Safe Boating Council and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary recommend boaters follow local guidance for social distancing and outdoor recreation.

“In many areas, the water is open; however, it’s more important than ever that boaters are responsible to limit unnecessary risk not only to themselves, but to other boaters, law enforcement, and first responders,” said Yvonne Pentz, communications director of the National Safe Boating Council, the lead organization of the Safe Boating Campaign.

“Safe boating is more important now than ever,” said Russ Eisenhardt, Flotilla Commander of the Hilton Head/Bluffton Flotilla of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. “The Town Councils of both Hilton Head Island and Bluffton have both designated May 16-22 as National Safe Boating Week and also set aside Saturday, May 16 as U.S. Coast Guard Flotilla 10-11 D7 Day, which we very much appreciate. It helps to focus attention on the importance each individual boat operator plays in keeping the waterways safe.”

U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in four out of every five recreational boating fatalities in 2018, and that 84 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

There are many U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for different activities like boating, fishing, paddling or hunting.

“When selecting a life jacket, pick one that fits you snugly and comfortably, and that you will want to wear,” said Peg Phillips, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council. “You’ll need to consider your body type, swim skills, recreational water activity, and environment.”

The Safe Boating Campaign and Coast Guard Auxiliary offers these safety tips for boating and social distancing:

• Follow state and local guidance for outdoor recreation.

• Share a float plan with a family member or friend with the details of your trip in the event of an emergency.

• Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

• Carry all required boating safety equipment such as flares, navigation light, a horn or whistle, a first aid kit.

• Limit the people aboard your boat to people in your immediate household.

• Stay at least six feet away from other people who do not live in your house.

• Maintain safe distance at the fuel dock or loading up at the marina.

• Wash hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer, such as after touching a marina gate or fuel pump.

• Don’t raft up to other boaters or pull up onto a beach next to someone else, as it could put you in close proximity to others.

• Go right from your house to the boat and back so that you don’t have unnecessary contact with anyone.

• Pack food, water and other things you may need as restaurants and marina stores may not be open.

• Never boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

• No distracted boating, and travel at safe speeds.

• Have more than one communication device that works when wet.

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