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Lake Elsinore death occurs near start of National Safe Boating Week campaign

The boating death of a five-year-old child May 23 on choppy Lake Elsinore waters occurred as a coalition of government and industry groups kicked off National Safe Boating Week, which promotes boating and life jacket safety.

The death of the five-year-old Riverside boy was the first boating-related death at Lake Elsinore this year. Other deaths have occurred there in recent years during high-use boating and swimming seasons.

The observance by the National Safe Boating Council ran from May 22-28. The council involves more than 330 US and Canadian agencies and companies that include the Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

In 2008, the most recent year in which complete data is available, 45 people died as a result of 520 boating accidents in California, statistics show.

California ranked second behind Florida in the number of boating accidents nationwide, and third in deaths. Texas had 61 deaths in 2008 and Florida was second with 55. The nationwide death toll totaled 709 people. The majority – 510 people – died of drowning. Eleven of the victims were under age 13.

About 90 percent of the drowning victims were not wearing life jackets. The top accident causes were careless or reckless boat operation, operator inattention or inexperience, lack of a lookout and passenger or water skier behavior. Alcohol consumption was listed as the leading factor of 17 percent of the boating deaths, according to a coalition fact sheet.

Nearly 4,800 boating accidents were reported in 2008. Of those accidents, about 3,330 injuries occurred that required hospitalization or other medical treatments. Property damage exceeded $54 million.

There are nearly 12.7 million recreational boats registered nationwide, the coalition said.

The use of life vests is a key focus of the coalition’s awareness-raising campaign.

“Boating can be a fun, safe and enjoyable activity, but when the “Wear It!” message is ignored, the consequences can be grim,” Virgil Chambers, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council, said in a news release. “And yet, year after year, we continue to see boaters who choose to go without wearing a life jacket.”

In order to counter stereotypes that life jackets are too hot or bulky, coalition officials point to design and manufacturing innovations made in recent years.

“We want to prove that life jackets not only save lives, but that today’s life jackets are comfortable, stylish and easy to wear,” says John Johnson, Executive Director of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. “In fact, they don’t even have to be jackets anymore. The old-fashioned, bulky orange life jacket most people are used to has been replaced with innovative new options we want all boaters to know about, including the new inflatable styles.”

“Life jackets today not only look cool and feel more comfortable, even on those hot summer days, but most importantly they’re saving lives,” Chambers added.

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