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Low Water Levels Require Greater Boating Safety in California

The impact of the ongoing drought in California continues to grow. Last month, the California State Parks’ Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) issued a warning to boaters.

According to the agency, drought conditions are creating additional hazards on the water. Therefore, it is imperative for all boaters to exercise additional caution this summer, particularly in areas impacted by the drought. “As water levels drop, underwater hazards become more prevalent,” said DBW’s Acting Deputy Director Christopher C. Conlin. “It is critical for all boaters, inland and coastal, to plan ahead, exercise caution and make sure everyone in a boat is wearing a proper-fitting life jacket.”

While the overall number of boating accidents in California dropped slightly in 2014, the DBW highlighted that the number of recreational boat collisions with fixed objects and groundings increased. The agency ascribes the spike in crashes to low water levels and boat driver inattention.

Other boating accident statistics also confirm the heightened risks created by the drought. Collisions with fixed objects skyrocketed nearly 60 percent, while there was a 23 percent increase in groundings. Accidents on lakes decreased 29 percent, while accidents on coastal waters increased 35 percent, which the DBW attributes to the drought-induced shift of boating recreation from inland lakes to coastal areas.

As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, the best way to stay safe on the water is to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Of the 39 California boating fatalities in 2014, 59 percent of victims drowned. In most cases, they were not wearing a life jacket. Below are several other tips from the DBW:

  • Plan ahead: Find out if your favorite boating spot has any boating operating restrictions. If your favorite spot is closed for boating and you opt to boat in a river or ocean, remember that operating vessels in these environments is very different from lakes. Plan ahead, take a boating safety class or invite someone with experience to show you how to boat safely in rivers or the ocean.
  • Hazards: Adjust your boating activities to the drought conditions. Water conditions are low enough in many places to make for hazardous boating. Areas that were easily boated a year ago may be dangerous this year. Keep a proper lookout for trees, snags, sandbars, etc.
  • Boat responsibly: Take a boating safety class or course to further minimize boating accidents. It is also critical for everyone in a boat to practice common-sense measures, such as wearing a life jacket at all times, avoiding the consumption of alcohol and operating boats at safe speeds. Last year, the top three causes of California boating accidents were operator inattention, excessive speed and operator inexperience.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a San Diego boating accident, don’t hesitate to contacta San Diego personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.