The U.S. Coast Guard reported that in 2011, 758 people in the United States died in boating-related incidents, the highest number since 1998.

With National Safe Boating Week starting today and with boating season heating up with the weather, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River wants to see people safe on the water.

“Everybody’s turning their focus on boating safety to try and minimize fatalities and tragedies,” said Capt. Len Tumbarello.

The issues the Coast Guard focuses on are operator inattention, improper lookouts, inexperience, excessive speed and machinery failure. Alcohol use was the most prevalent contributor to deadly boating accidents.

Necessary equipment

“You should be wearing your life jacket at all times,” said Tumbarello, about a simple yet often-neglected safety rule. “You never know when it’s going to happen.”

Seventy percent of the deaths in 2011 were drownings, and 84 percent of those people were not wearing life jackets. The Coast Guard recommends boaters bring life rings.

“Even in the summer months, the water is cold here,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn, highlighting how the lungs and muscles shut down on impact with water in the 40-degree temperature range.

All recreational craft should have a registered 406-megahertz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). There are larger beacons and personal models available at most marine supply stores.

“The personal EPIRBs are like cell phones,” said Jerry Ostermiller, coordinator for the sector’s auxiliary members.

The Coast Guard recommends a complete float plan be given to someone on shore to assist the agency in its search-and-rescue missions.

Courses and inspections

Ostermiller’s more than 900 auxillary members help with inspections, erect aids to navigation in the Columbia channel and teach boaters how to be safe.

“We all team up to provide that at the lowest possible price and at the most convenience to the boaters,” he said.

The Coast Guard auxiliary also performs free vessel inspections addressing registration, lights, horn, life jackets, fire extinguishers, distress signals, ventilation, fuel systems, anchor, alternate propulsion, dewatering device, electrical system, sewage system, and navigation rules.

The inspection is not an official Coast Guard boarding, and the results are only reported to the owner. Boaters can email the closest safety examiner by visiting www.

Littlejohn said kayakers and other nonpowered recreational boaters are becoming a bigger concern, especially in the outdoor-oriented Pacific Northwest.

“Paddle sports are the fastest-growing segment of recreational boating,” he said. “The simplicity of paddle craft lends itself to less education.”

Tumbarello said 45 percent of recreational boating casualties in Sector Columbia River involved paddle craft. In Oregon, five of the 10 fatalities were on paddle craft.

The courses offered by the Coast Guard cover boating safety, paddling and navigation, a significant problem on a river filled with fishers, paddle craft and commercial vessels.

Tumbarello said there’s always the issue of small fishing vessels in the main channel, their operators focused on bringing in fish and less on the commercial vessels coming through. A large bulk carrier cannot stop quickly and cannot turn in the narrow navigational channel.

“People just don’t know how the river navigation system works,” said Ostermiller. “The most encumbered vessel ... has the right of way.”

For information on courses, inspections and general boating safety, visit


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