CLEVELAND – July 6, 2011 --- U.S. Coast Guard boatcrews throughout the Great Lakes region saw thousands of vessels on the water during the Independence Day weekend and responded to several hundred distress calls.
The large number of Coast Guard responses, at least 227 from Friday morning to approximately 12 a.m. Tuesday, is significantly higher than the same time frames during the previous four years, but may be because Independence Day fell on a Monday this year and weather was favorable for boaters throughout the Great Lakes the majority of the long weekend.
A U.S. Coast Guard boatcrew from Station Rochester, N.Y., rescued five people after they were ejected from their boat (pictured) about 300 yards east of the Genesee River Monday afternoon. A member of the Coast Guard Reserve witnessed the three men, ages 47, 21 and 16, and two women, ages 47 and 20, being thrown from the 19-foot vessel after it took a wave over the bow. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Coast Guardsmen in small boats, cutters and aircraft, as well as members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, saved 16 lives, assisted 379 people, saved or assisted $2.3 million worth of property, and conducted 591 recreational vessel safety boardings. Of those 591 boardings, nine vessel operators were cited for boating under the influence, and the voyages of 22 recreational vessels were terminated due to various safety violations.
A U.S. Coast Guard boatcrew from Station St. Ignace, Mich., rescued a 54-year-old man after the 12-foot aluminum boat he was on capsized near Bois Blanc Island off Cheboygan, Mich., in Lake Huron Tuesday night.
A 50-year-old man, who had also been aboard the vessel, was able to swim to shore and used a cell phone to report the capsized vessel about 7:30 p.m. Boatcrews in a 25-foot Response Boat-Small and a 47-foot Motor Life Boat from Coast Guard Station St. Ignace immediately launched.
When the Coast Guardsmen in the RB-S arrived on scene they found the man clinging to side of the overturned vessel. He was not wearing a life jacket.
The RB-S crew recovered the man, who was suffering from hypothermia and shock, from the water and took him to shore in Cheboygan, Mich., where emergency medical technicians were waiting to further transport him to a local hospital.
The crew of the 47-foot MLB was able to lift the disabled vessel on the rear deck of their boat, removing the possible hazard to navigation. They tranported the skiff to Station St. Ignace.
The Coast Guard recommends all mariners wear life jackets at all times while underway, dress for the water temperature instead of the air temperature and carry a VHF-FM marine radio.
"Boaters need to be responsible for the safety of themselves, their passengers and other boaters," said Frank Jennings, Jr., recreational boating safety program manager for the Ninth Coast Guard District. "That means not only having the proper number of life jackets onboard, but wearing them whenever underway. It is much more difficult to find and don a life jacket during an emergency. Boaters need to be prepared ahead of time."
The most common safety violation was vessels underway without enough life jackets for everyone aboard or lacking a required throwable floatation device. Other common violations included mariners who weren’t carrying visual distress signals or who had expired flares on board, vessels lacking sound-producing devices, vessels lacking navigation lights, and unregistered or improperly registered vessels underway.
“Safety regulations are in place because they work and they’re proven to help prevent accidents on the water or drastically increase survivability following accidents,” said Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District. “Anyone who enjoys water-related activities on the Great Lakes should understand the risks involved and take necessary steps to ensure they will enjoy their outing and return home safely."
Despite the sizeable number of responses, Coast Guardsmen did report they saw many boaters wearing their life jackets.
“We can never stress enough the importance of wearing a life jacket while underway so we were thrilled to learn a large number of boaters made the decision to wear one,” said Frank Jennings Jr., recreational boating safety program manager for the Ninth Coast Guard District. “A life jacket is one of the most important pieces of life-saving equipment available to the boating community.”
Coast Guardsmen are also appreciative for assistance from numerous good samaritans and other federal, state and local response agencies during the busy weekend.
“The sheer number of vessels out on the Great Lakes and surrounding waterways this holiday weekend could have easily overwhelmed a single agency so we are extremely grateful for the help provided by our partner agencies and other response organizations, as well as the good samaritans who kept a keen eye on fellow boaters to ensure everyone made it home safely,” said Parks.
One thing which continues to be a problem, however, is mariners who chose to drink alcohol while operating vessels.
“Drinking and operating a boat is just as dangerous and irresponsible as drinking and driving an automobile,” said Jennings. “When you combine drinking and boating with a large volume of additional boaters in the area and operating at night in an unfamiliar environment, you have a recipe for disaster. Boat responsibly by leaving the alcohol at home.”
Mariners who want to make alcohol part of the day's entertainment should plan to have a party ashore at the dock, in a picnic area, at a boating club, or in a backyard, choosing a location that allows sufficient time to sober up before getting back into a car or boat.