LITTLE ROCK – As the warmth of spring begins to creep back into the forecast and people’s minds begin drifting back to angling and other fun to be had on the water, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission would like to remind everyone to make sure they have a properly fitting, working life jacket for every person on board the boat.
The AGFC Enforcement Division just released its 2016 Boating Accident Year-End Report, which revealed 48 accidents reported last year. Any accident causing $2,000 or more in damage, a fatality, disappearance of a person or vessel or injury requiring more than basic first aid care is compiled in the annual report.
Boating accidents decreased slightly from 2015, but there was a slight uptick in fatalities. Eleven people died in boating accidents in Arkansas during 2016. Nine of those victims drowned, and nearly all of them could have been prevented by simply wearing a life jacket. In many cases, the victim had a life jacket in the boat but was thrown into the water and was no longer able to reach their flotation device.
“Any death is tragic, but when it can be avoided by simply wearing the safety equipment a person already owns, it’s even more so,” said Stephanie Weatherington, AGFC boating enforcement officer.
Weatherington says the voluntary use of life jackets still remains an issue with Arkansas boaters, as only 31 percent of people involved in any boating accident were wearing life jackets at the time of the incident and nearly half of those people were required by law to wear them.
“In essence only 16.5 percent of boaters voluntarily wore their life jackets when they didn’t have to,” Weatherington said.
Weatherington says this year did reveal an almost 50 percent decrease in drug- or alcohol-related accidents. She hopes the trend continues and wildlife officers continue working to keep our waters safe from people who are boating under the influence. But at 27 percent of all boating accidents involving accidents or drugs, she says there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
“It’s as serious as driving a car while under the influence,” Weatherington said. “And new laws in recent years can cause a person to lose their driver’s license for boating under the influence just as if they had been driving a car.”