Is boating safety going by the wayside? Story on safety on the water.

Shawn Magliano has been boating for most of his life.

But he’ll probably keep his 20-foot Mastercraft tied to the shore this weekend rather than launch it on Gardner Lake where he lives on his father’s Pequot Ledge Campground. His reason — weekend boaters.

“There are more people out there that are just nuts,” he said. “I just make it a point not to go skiing or take the boat out on weekends. People just don’t seem to have the knowledge of boating safety.”

According to Coast Guard boating accident statistics for 2005, the No.1 contributor to fatal boating accidents is careless and reckless behavior.

Operator inattentiveness ranks second, while excessive speed and inexperience are the third and fourth causes, respectively.

“Obviously, the more experience you have, the more proficient you are,” said Coast Guard Lt. Andrew Ely, commander of Coast Guard Station New London.

“I think many boaters here in Connecticut are experienced because Connecticut requires safety education courses be taken before you can get a license. Even myself, I had to take the course — and that’s a good step.”

Drinking and boating ranked sixth as the most common cause of accidents.

“We want to remind everyone going out onto the water this summer that before they step on a boat, they should slip into their life jacket — and never drink and boat,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy in her annual statement on boating safety.

Boaters are subject to the same penalties motorists face if caught drinking and driving.

Connecticut’s hundreds of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, as well as Long Island and Fisher Island sounds, offer boaters a variety of recreational opportunities.

But making certain each boat has the proper safety equipment is critical in making a day on the water enjoyable.

Ely said the one piece of advice he would offer to every boater is “wear your life jacket.”

“If you interview anyone who fell off a boat, they’d tell you they didn’t plan on that that day,” he said.

Lifejackets are a requirement for children in Connecticut, but not for adults.

Most boaters carry them, but too many boaters keep them stored rather than in use, Ely said.

RuthAnne Collins of Norwich is looking forward to boating season with the family’s new 24-foot cabin cruiser, the Twenty Knots Too, docked at the Marina at American Wharf. She and her family are entering their third season on the water. For her, attending boating instructional classes offered by the U.S. Power Squadron chapters was the best thing they did before venturing out. She now serves as the education officer for the Norwich chapter.

“We took a four-week course, and we learned a lot, but I was still scared to get into the water,” she said.

Boating safety courses do not include actual hands-on instruction in the water, she said.

“Right now the requirement is an eight-hour course,” she said. “Pass the exam and hop on board your boat and go. There is nothing like hands-on experience.”

Ely said the second-most important thing to do before heading out is tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. That way, if there is an emergency, help can be summoned sooner rather than later.

“It’s also helpful for us to know how many people are on board and a description of the boat,” he said.

Reach Ray Hackett at rhackett@norwichbulletin.com.

On the Web
To learn more about boating safety and programs, visit the Connecticut DEP Web page at www.ct.gov/dep.