Jan. 23, 2024

PHOENIX — The importance of wearing a life jacket while recreating on Arizona’s waterways is sadly reflected in the most recent statistics involving boating tragedies.

A majority of the recreational boating fatalities were individuals who drowned and were not wearing a life jacket — the most important piece of safety gear one can wear, whether on a boat, personal watercraft or paddlecraft.

This was the case for three of the eight fatalities that occurred last year. And it’s a number that’s echoed nationally: In the most recent statistics provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, 85 percent of drowning victims in 2022 were not wearing a life jacket. 

“It’s certainly not too late to make boating safety a New Year’s resolution,” said Kim Jackson, boating and OHV education program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD). “Designate a sober operator, wear a life jacket, and ensure that others on your boat do so as well.”

AZGFD aims to keep the public safe by patrolling the state’s waterways, as well as by providing education on best practices for boating safety and operation. Law enforcement efforts, including sobriety checkpoints and participation in initiatives like Operation Dry Water, allow officers to make contact with watercraft users throughout the state and share important messages about sober boating, while helping to stop unsafe behaviors.

The department’s Boating Safety Education courses include instruction on the basic skills required to safely operate a boat or personal watercraft, trailering a vessel, navigational rules, buoys, anchoring, legal requirements, boating emergencies, water sports, and paddling.

As a reminder, life jackets must be worn by children 12 and younger anytime they are on board a boat or watercraft, and that a properly fitting life jacket must be available for all passengers. 

For boaters who do not have enough life jackets (or the right sizes) for everyone, more than two dozen life jacket loaner stations have been installed at popular lakes, including Apache, Bartlett, Canyon, Lake Havasu, Mohave, Pleasant, and Saguaro.  

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