As we enter boating season, DEM stresses importance of lifejackets, other safety precautions


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the weather gets warmer, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is reminding boaters to take the proper precautions when out on the water.

Wednesday, April 7, marks the start of trout-fishing season, meaning there will be a lot more boating traffic on lakes and in the bay. The DEM says its crucial for anglers use caution and abide by the laws to ensure everyone on board stays safe.

The DEM urges anyone going out on a boat, canoe, kayak or other vessel to wear a lifejacket, citing U.S. Coast Guard statistics which show that in 2019, 86% of people who drowned while boating did not have one on.

In addition, boating incidents are five times more likely to be fatal if the water is colder than 60 degrees, according to the Coast Guard. Even on a warm day, water temperatures can hover in the low to mid-50s, the DEM said, especially early in the season.

“Cold water can kill in ways that you might not expect,” said Lt. Michael Schipritt, boating safety coordinator for DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement, in a news release Tuesday.

Schipritt said an unexpected fall overboard can cause a person to suffer cold-water shock within the first minute, followed by hyperventilation, cold incapacitation (AKA swimming failure) and hypothermia.

“We see it time and time again in Rhode Island boating accidents,” Schipritt added. “A single boat on a lake or on the bay capsizes and the victim isn’t wearing a life jacket, has no warning or time to put one on, and drowns due to the effects of cold water.”

Ocean, Bay & Beach Forecast: Real-time weather information including water temps, tide changes, wave heights and more »

All boaters born after Jan. 1, 1986, are required to complete a boating safety course to operate a vessel with a motor greater than 10 horsepower.

The DEM also issued a reminder about the dangers of drinking and boating, saying alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in marine crashes.

DEM: Boating safety laws and information »

Those who don’t follow boating laws could face fines. For example, not having a lifejacket for each person on board can run you up to $100.

Rhode Island saw increases in boating-related accidents, incidents and violations last year, according to Schipritt, who provided 12 News with statistics from the DEM:

Recreational vessel boardings1,6202,555
Boating violation arrests1535
Civil summons5374
Written warnings347486
Reportable accidents4264
Marine search and rescues7976

Schipritt said DEM officers will be patrolling waters and camped out at boat ramps throughout the spring and summer to ensure these safety precautions are being taken.

The DEM also announced that as a result of improved water level and access conditions, three additional fishing areas will be stocked for the start of trout-fishing season: Lake Tiogue in Coventry, Spring Grove Pond in Glocester, and Wallum Lake in Burrillville.

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