Fewer people died from recreational boating accidents in 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard has announced.

The latest statistics show that the number of boating fatalities dropped to 676 from 703 in 2003. It's the lowest on record since 1960, and it represents a steady decline, according to the agency, which recorded 750 fatalities in 2002.

Of 50 recreational accidents in Oregon in 2004, nine, or 18 percent, were fatal. That's a drop from 73 accidents in 2003, when 15 accidents, or about 21 percent, resulted in deaths.

And of the state's nine fatalities, six, or 67 percent, were from drowning. Nationally, that number's a little higher - slightly more than 70 percent of the country's 676 accident victims drowned.

Lack of safety measures were at the heart of those drownings, the Coast Guard said. Ninety percent of the boaters who drowned last year weren't wearing life-saving vests. The agency stressed that lifejackets remain key to surviving an accident.

In addition, people must know how to use safety equipment, said Lt. Jamie Frederick, commanding officer at station Cape Disappointment.

"This is one of the most inherently dangerous places to operate a boat," Frederick said. "If people are going to go out and operate, they need to have the proper safety equipment on board."

He said education has helped to decrease the number of boating accidents.

"We've been pretty aggressive with our boating safety campaigns," Frederick said. "I think it's a Coast Guardwide effort. Here, we're doing our part by getting out and trying to educate boaters and by doing enforcement of recreational boating safety.

"If we're not out there enforcing the recreational boating safety laws, we're being irresponsible."

The Coast Guard at Cape Disappointment regularly boards boats to check for required safety equipment, such as personal flotation devices and visual distress signals. Flares are the most commonly missing items, Frederick said, although just having the correct equipment isn't enough.

"They may have the right equipment but may not know how to use it properly or have it in the right place," he said, noting lifejackets, if not worn, must be easy to access.

And while radios aren't required, the Coast Guard recommends carrying VHF-FM radios or Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacons to communicate during an emergency.

Frederick said he has no doubt that people who know how to use safety equipment and who have the required items on board, stored in the right places, will be able to handle emergency situations.

"If you are prepared and you get in trouble, you can deal with it," he said.

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