The recent spate of boating deaths on Maine lakes and rivers has heightened awareness about boater safety – including the importance of life jackets – just as the season is shifting into high gear.

According to the Maine Warden Service, there already have been six boating fatalities in Maine this year as of early June, more than two weeks before the start of summer. That equals the total number of boating deaths in all of 2016.

The warden service reported one boating fatality in 2015, two in 2014, three in 2013, and two in 2012. In 2011, eight people were killed while boating.

The latest fatality took place Saturday afternoon on the Dead River in West Forks Plantation, about 150 miles north of Portland in Somerset County. Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the warden service, said Richard Sanders, 67, of York was ejected from a raft during a whitewater rafting trip guided by North Country Rivers in Bingham.

MacDonald said Sanders was in a raft carrying seven passengers when it flipped over on a remote section of the river called Mile Long Rapid. Everyone was thrown out of the raft, but all were brought to shore by guides in four other rafts.

Sanders, who was wearing a life jacket, was not breathing when life-saving measures were attempted. Some witnesses indicated he may have been submerged in the river for several minutes, MacDonald said in a written statement. All of the rafting guests were wearing life jackets, helmets and full wet suits.

At least one other boating accident victim this year was wearing a life jacket, but some were not, according to the warden service:

Men remove a canoe below the dam on Outlet Stream in Vassalboro on May 16, the day after Mollie Egold of Vassalboro and her son William, 5, went over the dam and he was thrown from the canoe. William was pulled from the water but died in the hospital of severe hypothermia. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Vassalboro resident William Egold, 5, died in the hospital of severe hypothermia after being thrown from a canoe that he and his mother, Mollie Egold, were paddling on Outlet Stream in Vassalboro on May 15. Their black-and-white canoe became lodged in the falls. The boy became trapped in debris under water until his mother was able to free him. He was wearing a life jacket.

Stephen Wines, 27, of Bailey Island went missing May 12 on the Androscoggin River in Brunswick after falling from a small boat he was riding in with his brother after dusk. His body has not been recovered and officials say he was not wearing a life jacket.

Joseph Giffune Jr., 25 of Millinocket, an experienced rafting guide, died May 7 in a whitewater kayaking accident on Nesowadnehunk Stream south of Baxter State Park when he got stuck in a hydraulic gap at the bottom of some ledges and was unable to free himself.

Hydraulics, or holes, are formed when fast water flows over a submerged boulder or ledge, causing the water on the surface to flow back upstream. Giffune died after being pulled from the water unconscious. Efforts to resuscitate him failed. It was not clear from media reports whether Giffune was wearing a life jacket.

Jennifer Bousquet, 38, of South Berwick drowned May 27 after her canoe capsized on the Saco River in Fryeburg. Two of her companions in the canoe were able to make it to shore safely. Her body was located four days later about 350 yards downstream from the spot in Fryeburg where she and her companions put in. Bousquet was not wearing a life jacket when wardens found her body.

Christopher Hughs, 52, of Trumbull, Connecticut, went missing while canoeing Thursday on Panther Pond in Raymond. His body was found Friday in 16 feet of water, about 200 yards from shore. He was not wearing a life jacket.

MORE VIGILANCE AFTER ACCIDENTS

The warden service posted a video on its YouTube channel last month urging all boaters to wear life jackets. Game Warden Peter Herring was featured in the video.

“When people ask me what part of being on the water scares me the most, I tell them it’s people not wearing their life jacket while out recreating,” he said.

Herring said history demonstrates that boating accidents happen suddenly and leave no time for people to prepare. “Accidents on the water happen almost instantaneously,” he said.

Some boaters who were out Sunday said the recent accidents have made them more vigilant.

Dave Bell of Scarborough, who was launching his personal watercraft – similar to a Jet Ski – from a public boat launch at Gobeil Park on Little Ossipee Lake in East Waterboro, said he and his wife had spoken about all the deaths.

“My wife talks about it all the time,” Bell said.

He said he is very aware of safety when he goes out. He carries flares, keeps his cellphone in a waterproof pocket on the boat, and wears a life jacket.

“You would be crazy not to,” he said.

Bell also avoids places where people drink and boat, such as the upper Saco River. He said he had a nasty experience involving drunken boaters camping along the Saco River with his wife and son 15 years ago, and that led him to permanently hang up his paddles.

“The canoe has sat for 15 years,” Bell said.

Heath Smith of East Waterboro went fishing Sunday with his daughter, Emily, and wife, Nicole, on Little Ossipee Lake. Though he chose not to wear a life jacket Sunday, Smith said he always keeps one close at hand for himself and his passengers. When he is traveling at faster speeds or in a less stable watercraft such as a canoe, he does wear a life jacket.

“I was just trolling today, but I always wear it in my canoe and when I’m water skiing,” Smith said.

Fred Westerberg, owner and operator of the Saco River Canoe & Kayak in Fryeburg for more than 40 years, said a lot of water safety is common sense, such as paying attention to possible underwater obstructions, knowing navigation rules and wearing a life jacket at all times.

“For some reason, some people feel a life jacket is uncomfortable or they will just be all right because they can swim. But it is very simple. Not having a life jacket is not a smart move,” Westerberg said.

He said he tells his customers that if they capsize on the river to worry about their safety first, not the canoe or the boat.

“Go with the current, make your way to shore and get out of the water,” said Westerberg, a supervisor of the Saco River Recreational Council, a group that protects the river, promotes river conservation and resolves issues arising from canoeing on the Saco River.

BOATING FATALITIES ON THE RISE

The U.S. Coast Guard released its 2016 recreational boating statistics report last week. They revealed that 701 people died in boating fatalities nationwide last year, an 11.3 percent increase from 626 the previous year. The Coast Guard keeps track of boating fatalities whether they occur on lakes, rivers, streams – or on the ocean.

In the Coast Guard’s Northeast District, which includes all six New England states, as well as northern New Jersey and New York City, recreational boating deaths increased to 55 last year, up 62 percent from 34 in 2015.

Forty-five of the 55 people who died were not wearing a life jacket. Forty of the people drowned and 29 of the deaths involved a paddlecraft, the Coast Guard said.

“With all the rainy weather and the water temperatures across New England still 60 (degrees) and below, now is the time to prepare for the nice summer weather,” Walt Taylor, the Coast Guard’s recreational boating safety coordinator, said in a written statement. “Ensure your inflatable life jackets function properly, flare and fire extinguishers are not past expiration dates, and strobe lights, personal locating beacons and hand-held VHF radios have fresh batteries.”

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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