The U.S. Coast Guard is reminding the thousands of people in Washington and Oregon planning on making boating part of their Memorial Day weekend to make safety a first priority. The holiday weekend coincides with the wrap-up of North American Safe Boating Week which ends today - a campaign aimed at increasing life jacket awareness and use among recreational boaters.

In 2008, there were 67 fatalities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, and in 48 of these accidents, life jackets were not in use. In Washington alone, 23 of the 25 deaths might have been prevented had a flotation vest been used.

Dan Shipman, U.S. Coast Guard boating safety specialist, said that while it is important to have the proper equipment onboard a vessel, responsibility for any ship's passengers lies with the person in charge.

"The vessel's operator must set the example and make some important choices regarding the safety of passengers, choosing to have everyone wear a life jacket, choosing not to drink and choosing to make sure the boat is properly equipped and maintained," Shipman said.

Boaters can get assistance by taking some of the many safety classes offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Power Squadron, both volunteer organizations.

Boaters are also encouraged to schedule a free Vessel Safety Check with the Coast Guard Auxiliary before taking to the water. The auxiliary member conducting the VSC will examine the vessel's documentation, life jackets, and other safety equipment and can educate the boater on the proper use of the equipment. For more information, go to:

All boaters should follow these important safety tips:

? Wear a life jacket

? Carry a VHF-FM marine radio

? Don't drink and boat

? Take a boating class, educated boaters are safe boaters

? Check weather forecasts

? Make sure the boat is in good repair

? Check all safety gear and ensure that everybody is trained in its use

? Make sure the boat drain plug is securely in place

? Don't overload your boat

? Keep a sharp lookout and monitor the weather and sea conditions

? Keep your distance from military, passenger and commercial shipping

? Don't drink and drive

? Follow the rules of the road and be a considerate boater

? Operate at a safe speed; a safe speed is the distance you can safely stop to avoid a collision in the prevailing visibility and or density of boating traffic

More information is available at the Coast Guard's boating safety Web site:

The Coast Guard Auxiliary will celebrate its 70th year of service this year, supporting recreational boaters as well as active duty Coast Guard units.

The Auxiliary's 35,000 members nationwide provided more than 50,000 hours of boating safety education courses and conducted more than 130,000 vessel safety checks annually.