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Tips for New Orleans boaters to keep safe this season

New Orleans residents preparing to go boating in the summer season may not be aware that they need to exercise just as much caution on the water as they would on the road. According to the Coast Guard, there were 4,558 boating accidents in 2011, resulting in 758 fatalities and 3,081 injured people.

Of the fatal accidents, 70 percent were attributed to drowning. Of those victims, 84 percent were not wearing life jackets. In cases where the boat operator received proper boat safety training, the risk of fatal accidents was greatly reduced -- only 11 percent of deaths occurred in these situations.

In addition to this, approximately 16 percent of fatalities took place in accidents involving boating under the influence.

If another party's negligence is determined to be the cause of a fatal accident, whether on land or water, it may be possible to file a wrongful death claim to compensate for medical and funeral expenses.

The Coast Guard emphasizes that federal law mandates an equal number of passengers and floatation devices onboard, when operating in applicable waters. Boaters should wear a life jacket to reduce the chance of drowning, as searching for one after an accident occurs may be impossible.

Boaters should not rely solely on cellphones for communication while on a boat; there may be gaps in network coverage or battery life. On the other hand, a VHF-FM marine band radio onboard can be used by distressed passengers to contact the Coast Guard or other agencies on a channel monitored at all times. This increases the number of people who may respond to the distressed signal, if tragedy strikes.

Above all else, these safety tips serve as a reminder of the tremendous responsibility that rests in the hands of boat operators. Even though boating conduct and courtesies may be different than the rules of the road, those operating motorized vehicles are still ultimately responsible for using a reasonable standard of care to protect their passengers and fellow boaters.

Source: Amite-Tangi Digest, "Coast Guard New Orleans offers safety tips for one of busiest boating seasons," July 3, 2012

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