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Recent boating fatalities draw safety concerns

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement Division is encouraging all boaters to practice safe boating while enjoying the waterways of Louisiana. This notice comes after three people have died in boating accidents in 2021.

The Enforcement Division has witnessed an uptick in the number of boating crash incidents and boating related fatalities in past couple years.  The numbers of boating crash incidents reached 162 in 2020, up from 129 boating incidents in 2018 and 135 boating incidents in 2019. The number of boating fatalities also rose from 19 in 2018 and to 20 in 2019 and up to 24 in 2020.

The boating fatalities this month include two 15-year-old boys in Caldwell Parish with the operator of the vessel being charged with vehicular homicide and operating a vessel while intoxicated. The other boating fatality occurred in St. Landry Parish and involved a kayak that capsized and the deceased was not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) and never resurfaced.

“The boating crash incidents and fatality trend in the last year is disturbing to say the least,” said Col. Chad Hebert, head of LDWF’s Enforcement Division which enforces recreational boating safety laws and investigates recreational boating crash incidents.

Hebert said the growing number of accidents in 2020 was probably boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic where more people got outside, especially on the water where they could practice safe distancing and still have a good time.

“We saw an increase in the number of people recreationally boating along with a higher number of days on the water, especially in last year which we attribute to higher incidents and fatalities.” Hebert said. “While we are happy people can enjoy the outdoors during this time, we also want them to do it responsibly and in a safe manner.”

LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet echoed Hebert’s sentiments about welcoming more people on the waterways, “but we have to be smart. Safe practices will be beneficial to everyone. We can help ourselves and other boaters by following the rules of the water.”

Of the 24 fatalities in 2020, 20 were recovered without wearing a PFD.  Anyone 16 years of age and younger is required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved and properly fitting PFD while underway on a vessel under 26 feet long.  Also, everyone on a vessel less than 16 feet long, propelled by a hand tiller motor, must wear a PFD while underway.

There must also be a PFD for each person on board a vessel and anyone riding on a personal watercraft must wear a PFD.

Of the 24 boating fatalities in 2020, 4 of them involved alcohol.  Nationwide, alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating incidents, causing 19 percent of all deaths on the water.

In Louisiana, operating or driving a vessel while intoxicated has the same penalties as operating a vehicle.  A DWI on the water can be issued to anyone operating a moving vessel while impaired. LDWF agents issued 78 citations for DWI on the water in 2018, 88 in 2019 and 72 in 2020.

Boaters are encouraged to take the LDWF approved safe boating course. It is mandatory for anyone born after Jan.1, 1984, to operate a motorboat over 10 horsepower.  LDWF certified over 9,610 boaters in 2020.

To register for the course, visit www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/boater-education.