Sportsmen on the Water – I

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2004

Special to News-Herald

For a brief moment recently it started to feel like spring here in Hampton Roads. Despite what the groundhog’s shadow indicated earlier this week I am a firm believer that warmer weather is right around the corner. Heck, the pictures and catchers for my beloved Baltimore Orioles arrive at spring training in a mere five days. Spring is coming…right? Now if I can only get the forces of nature to agree with me.

Since, in theory, warm weather is right around the corner throughout Suffolk, sportsmen who engage in an activity on the water will emerge from their homes and get their favorite vessel back in the water. Only the hardiest have been out during the sub-Arctic tundra like weather we have endured since December.

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For the rest of us, it’s time to review some safety considerations when fishing, hunting and boating come together. For great advice we look to the Sportsmen’s Forum.

Back in 1999, following a larger than normal number of fatalities among hunters that use the water, the Coast Guard started the foundation for a program that would address the needs of waterborne hunters.

The first organization to answer the call, to start this program, was one of the cornerstones of safe boating in our great country – the BoatU.S. Foundation.

As the foundation started to dig into the whole issue of hunters and boats the results were truly shocking. For example, the &uot;Boating Tips For Hunters and Anglers&uot; stated that, &uot;Over 25 percent of all boating facilities involve boaters that were actively fishing or hunting – yet less than 10 percent of boaters say fishing or hunting is their primary boating activity.&uot;

The booklet continued, &uot;It became clear to us sportsmen were more at risk for boating fatalities that the general boating and were in dire need of boating safety education.&uot;

The BoatUS Foundation took the lead and brought together an impressive coalition called the Sportsmen’s Foundation. The foundation went right to work assembling detailed statistics, while assembling a brilliant safe boating guide.

Here are five specific examples taken directly from the booklet:

— You might think that younger inexperienced sportsmen are most at risk, or that older, less agile sportsmen may be at the highest risk. In actuality, the highest rate of fatalities is among sportsmen who are 30 to 50 years old.

— 88 percent of sportsmen who die on the water die from drowning, mainly as a result of their boat capsizing or from falling overboard.

— 70 percent of hunters who died in boating accidents fell overboard as a result of their boat being improperly loaded, or due to moving around the boat unsafely.

— 91 percent of the sportsmen who died in boating accidents between 1995-2000 were not wearing a life jacket. Compared with the general boating fatality population, in which 77 percent were not wearing a lifejacket, sportsmen were far more likely to have not worn a life jacket than all other boaters – a difference that might have saved their lives!

— 47 percent of all hunters who used boats did not even have a life jacket onboard.

First and foremost there is a need to continue an aggressive education and outreach program to sportsmen. The Sportsmen’s Forum does a great job.

Second, all those connected with hunting and fishing need to reinforce safety especially if the participant uses a boat.

Third, and most importantly, individual sportsmen need to take personal responsibility and learn safety techniques for their unique recreational boating experience. It is this last issue, learning sportsmen specific safety techniques that we will cover in next week’s column.

Until next week – Boat Safe and Boat Smart!

Joe DiRenzo III is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.