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Greenwich Daily Voice serves Greenwich, CT
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Greenwich Amps Up Boat Safety for Holiday

GREENWICH, Conn. — As prime boating season begins, Officers Tom Etense and Shawn Fox of the Marine Section of the Greenwich Police Department blame inexperience for the majority of accidents on the water.

“We always say, starting Fourth of July weekend, the numbers increase. We’ve had a couple of accidents this year already,” Fox said at the Marine Section’s headquarters off Arch Street in Greenwich. “Boat safety classes are great, but local knowledge is paramount anywhere you go. You need know what’s going on, where the hazards are and what you’re looking at on a chart.”

Etense said one of the biggest mistakes novice boaters make is assuming that floating markers that indicate dangers are in the exact right spot. “Things move,” said Etense. “You have a tidal change, or a storm, even if something moves a foot, it can make all the difference."

Alcohol is a major cause of boating accidents in Connecticut, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Last weekend, the state participated in Operation Dry Water, a nationwide effort to target boaters operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators coordinates the program, which was spearheaded in 2009. DEP Conservation Police Marine Law enforcers conducted patrols and checkpoints, looking for boaters whose blood alcohol content levels were above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Boating under the influence can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the use of alcohol is involved in about 17 percent of all recreational boating deaths.

No alcohol-related boating accidents have been reported so far this year in Greenwich. But Fox said, “Historically in Greenwich, serious accidents with injury tend to be alcohol-related.”

In addition to not having flares and fire extinguishers on board, one of the most important safety measures people neglect is the use of life jackets. “There should be a life jacket for each individual on board,” said Etense. “You could be an Olympic swimmer, hit your head and fall in the water, and it won’t make a difference how well you can swim.”

When in doubt, the easiest way to avoid accidents is to go slow, especially at night. “We’ve pulled tree stumps, limbs out of the water, but we can’t get them all. No one expects those to be out there,” said Fox. “You hit a tree trunk at 30 to 40 mph on the water, you’re in trouble. They’re hard enough to see during the day, but at night it can be impossible.”

Have you been boating yet this season? What boat safety precautions do you take before you hit the water?

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