When my son and his friend Dan were young boys, my friend and I took them canoeing on the Delaware River. The boys knew how to swim and we all wore a personal floatation device. In the unlikely event that we would capsize, the boys were instructed to hold on to the side of the canoe until they were told to let go.
It was a weekday and the river was devoid of the dozens if not hundreds of other canoes that are launched from liverys, summer camps, and cottages along the way every weekend. The Delaware is a beautiful river and, as we paddled and floated along I couldn’t help feel a connection to the Native Americans who paddled the same water and saw the same sights as we were witnessing. The boys were in awe of the deer we saw feeding along the river’s edge and pointed skyward with excitement whenever a bald eagle was sighted. It was a wonderful, safe, and uneventful afternoon both boys still talk about.
This is the time many people take to the water but many of them do so without giving any consideration to boating safety. Last year, New York had 18 reported fatal boating accidents, and as startling as this figure is it was a significant decrease compared to 2020 when 31 people in New York lost their lives in a boating accident.
The number of boating fatalities is decreasing due to changes to boater education laws which have expanded the mandatory requirements first from youths, then to personal watercraft operators and now to include all boat operators born after Jan. 1, 1993. By 2025 anyone operating a boat or personal watercraft will be required to take a safe boating course. Fortunately, this shouldn’t be a problem because online education has made boating education easy to obtain and easily accessible.
Not surprisingly, drowning was the number one cause of boating fatalities, and according to a New York State report on recreational boating, from 2005-2020 more than 80% of those deaths were due to not wearing a Personal Floatation Device (PFD). Those who only paddle a canoe or kayak should also be aware of the dangers inherent to those watercraft as well. According to the report, there were eight deaths among users of non-motorized watercraft in 2020.
Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania where all watercraft must be registered when launching or taking out from a state boat launch, the size of the non-motorized segment of the boating population is difficult to determine in New York since their registration is not required. Most of these accidents involving a canoe or kayak resulted from the victim exiting the craft unexpectedly either by capsizing or falling overboard.
Most state boating authorities remind anyone who may operate a motorized boat or who might rent a canoe or kayak that safety can be greatly enhanced by simply wearing a life jacket. Unlike the bulky uncomfortable PFDs, we knew years ago, today’s PFDs are more comfortable than ever and come in all sorts of styles, shapes, and sizes and they’re more affordable than ever.
Another caveat is to never boat impaired. Anyone who drinks and operates a boat should know the rules for boating under the influence, BUI, are the same as driving under the influence or DUI. That point-zero-eight (.08) limit applies on the water as well as the road.
New York has miles of streams and rivers a family can explore and as my son and his friend discovered so many years ago the experience can not only be memorable but a safe one as well.