Awareness event held at marina in Station Square as part of National Boat Safety Week

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Safe Boating Council hosted an awareness event at The Landing & Marina at Station Square as part of National Boat Safety Week. The United States Coast Guard and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stressed the importance of educating yourself before going out in the water and bringing a life jacket with you.

“Life jackets,” said PA Fish and Boat Commission Waterways Conservation Officer Michael Johnson. “Life jackets are the number one way that a person can prevent an accident and or death.”

Michael Johnson is with the PA Fish and Boat Commission. He says they’re trained to spot impaired boaters, which is a leading cause of recreational boating fatalities.

“Alcohol and boating especially after dark is the biggest problem,” said Pittsburgh Safe Boating Council Vice-President and Freedom Boat Club Pittsburgh owner Michael Hills. “Anything that is dangerous about boating gets worse after dark as you can imagine. It is legal to have alcohol on the boat, but the person captaining a boat must be a sober skipper. You should also have a sober lookout.”

In Pennsylvania, the Fish and Boat Commission recorded 56 recreational boating accidents and nine fatalities in 2021. That’s down by two compared to 2020. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, recreational boating accidents were declining nationwide but are now trending upward again. The latest statistics from 2020 show that there were about 5,200 boating accidents and just over 750 deaths reported across the country. Most of those deaths were the result of drowning and 85% of the people were not wearing life jackets.

“In almost every case where there’s an accident or worse a fatality in boating, they’re not wearing a life jacket,” said Hills.

Since the start of the pandemic, Johnson says they’ve seen an uptick in fatalities associated with non-powered crafts such as kayaks. Many of those people were also not wearing life jackets.

“People who have no experience going out on waters,” said Johnson. “Sometimes they go out on waters that may be too big for them and not wearing their life jacket. You put that combination together and it could result in tragedy.”

National Safe Boating Week runs from May 21-27. It’s an annual awareness campaign that promotes safe and responsible boating.

Click here for boating safety tips from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Click here to read more about National Safe Boating Week.