With warmer temperatures and longer days rapidly approaching, rivers, lakes, ponds and bays are coming to life as people take to the water. Unfortunately, the waters they are hoping will reward them with peace and relaxation are fraught with hidden dangers, including deadly cold temperatures, treacherous currents and unpredictable weather.

Just last year, 49 people in New England were killed in recreational boating accidents, with nine occurring in Maine alone. Of those, 89 percent were not wearing life jackets. In fact, there have already been five deaths in northern New England in early May, well before the traditional start of boating season.

This season, the Coast Guard and the state of Maine are especially focused on paddlecraft safety. The paddlecraft industry continues to expand as more and more people of varying skill levels are accessing New England waters. Nearly all of them return home safely after a fun-filled day, but every year we continue to see preventable deaths and injuries.

Whether it’s a successful search and rescue case or a tragic loss of life, we frequently find that people are not prepared for the conditions they encounter. Survivors often say, “I can’t believe how quickly things went bad.” One minute, they were enjoying a peaceful day in perfect conditions, and the next minute, they were fighting for their lives. Our intent is not to scare people off the water, or to discourage them from trying an activity they may come to love for a lifetime — it’s simply to make sure they are prepared.

National Safe Boating Week runs from May 20 through 26, but given our ever-changing environmental conditions in Maine, every day must be a safe boating day. Regardless of the kind of boating activity you enjoy or how safe you think it may be, you always need to consider what can go wrong. If you find yourself submerged in 50-degree water, unable to get back into your kayak or onto your paddleboard, will you be able to stay afloat, signal a nearby boater or contact the Coast Guard? If not, regardless of your skill level, your life will be in jeopardy.

To avoid that possibility, good safety practices are always important: Wear a life jacket; have a way to communicate ashore (ideally with a marine radio); consider buying a personal locator beacon; monitor the weather for changing conditions; dress for the water temperature and not the air temperature; let people know where you will be; know your limits; avoid alcohol, and consider using a guide. It’s also important to know who you are sharing the waterway with and what to do when you encounter them.


Anyone with experience in the coastal waters of Maine knows that boating traffic is increasing. At any given time, there could be tankships transporting millions of gallons of oil, cruise ships carrying thousands of tourists, ferries loaded with passengers headed to the islands, fishing vessels working their gear and countless recreational boats and paddlecraft darting across the water. This magnifies the potential for an accident, making it vital for commercial and recreational boaters to understand how to share the waterway.

Large ships are constrained to where they can go because of water depths, and they cannot change course and speed quickly if a small boat ends up in their path; believe it or not, they typically have the right of way over almost all other vessel traffic. Tugboats are needed to help these ships safely navigate through tight bridges and alongside piers. Fishing vessels may be hauling traps that makes it difficult for them to maneuver.

To minimize the risk of collision and disaster, every vessel on the water — from the largest commercial craft to the smallest vessel capable of being used for transportation (yes, even paddleboards!) — must follow the navigation rules.

Regardless of how a person ends up in trouble – be it inexperience, Mother Nature’s unpredictability or a boating accident — the Coast Guard will respond with every available resource. However, a number of factors can delay our ability to get to you quickly, including any uncertainty about your location, poor communications, weather conditions and remote regions where response capabilities are limited.

For these reasons, you need to do everything possible to guarantee you can call us for help, stay afloat and survive in cold water so you are still with us when we get there. We want everyone to live to boat another day.

Be prepared, be safe and have fun out there.

Cmdr. Andy Meyers is the prevention department head at Coast Guard Sector Northern New England. Lt. Adam Gormely is the boating law administrator for the state of Maine.

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