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    Increase in Boating Fatalities in Arizona has Officials Urging Life Jacket Use, Boater Education

    Arizona has experienced 10 boating-related fatalities so far in 2011, the most since 2006, when 14 boaters died.

    Four of the 10 fatalities resulted from injuries sustained in accidents, while six were drowning victims. Of the six, three were not wearing life jackets.

    The spike in fatalities this year has officials strongly reminding boaters to exercise safe boating practices, including wearing life jackets, making sure their watercraft equipment is in good working order, and taking a boating safety class.

    Most recently, a 57-year-old Arizona man died at Roosevelt Lake on Sept. 30 as the result of a fall overboard. He and his 32-year-old son, along with the boat operator, launched in calm water in the early evening. Winds soon increased and the 16-foot boat, which was headed into the wind, reversed course and soon became swamped by 4-foot waves.

    The man and his son were both thrown from the boat and tried to swim for shore, according to the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. While the son made it to shore, there was no sign of the father. GCSO divers recovered the father’s body the following afternoon.

    “No life jackets were worn by the three occupants of the vessel”, said Gila County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brian Havey. “Had the jackets been worn, the chance of survival would have been significantly greater.”

    With these unfortunate and tragic circumstances, the Arizona Game and Fish Department reminds boaters to always think safety first.

    “Always wear your life jacket when you are on the water,” said Kevin Bergersen, Arizona boating law administrator. ”There is no substitute for proper safety precautions, particularly at night and in rough weather.”

    Boating Safety Education Administrator Ed Huntsman advised people to take a boating education course.

    “Educated boaters are safer boaters,” said Huntsman. ”Boating accident statistics indicate that more than 70 percent of all operators involved in boat accidents have not attended any formal boating safety education classes.”

    Boating safety classes provide the fundamental information and training that boaters need to remain safe on the water. Even experienced boaters are encouraged to take these courses as a refresher. To sign up for a boating safety class, call the Arizona Game and Fish Department at (623) 236-7219 or go to www.azgfd.gov/education and click on the “boating education” link.

    Officials also advise boaters to make sure their safety equipment is on board and in good operating condition, and to not drink and operate a boat.

    “Remember, Boat Safe, Boat Smart and Boat Sober,” said Bergersen.

    For more information, visit www.azgfd.gov/boating.

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