Game and Fish urge boaters to practice water safety after two deaths

PHOENIX, Ariz. - After two people died this summer in separate incidents on the Colorado River, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) is reminding the public to use caution and be alert to all surroundings while on the water.

According to AZGFD, nationally, one in five accidents on the water involve a personal watercraft (PWC).

In of the incidents that occurred this year involved a Bullhead City school teacher, who was riding a PWC when it collided with a bridge pillar. The other occurred when a boat crashed into a PWC carrying three passengers, killing a 13-year-old girl.

"Our hearts go out to these families who are forever altered by these separate incidents, but the sad reality is that most deadly incidents on the water are avoidable," said Tim Baumgarten, boating law administrator for AZGFD. "Some of these watercraft have upwards of 300 horsepower and can reach speeds around 70 mph. Every watercraft user - whether they're piloting a boat or PWC - must constantly be on the lookout for other vessels, in addition to knowing how to properly maneuver and control their craft."

AZGFD reports around 25,682 PWCs are registered in Arizona.  

In 2015, there were 4,158 accidents on the water nationwide - 20 percent of which involved a PWC, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Of all the accidents involving a PWC, operator inexperience was the most common factor.

The ability to control the watercraft is based on the amount of water thrust. An experienced operator knows it's critical to use the throttle to properly maneuver the watercraft and avoid danger. When an operator kills the engine or stops using the throttle, the craft will continue on its course and speed, and the operator will lose any ability to control the watercraft.

Of the 623 people who were injured while operating a PWC, 33 died from injuries sustained in a collision. Nearly 25 percent of those who died drowned, according to U.S. Coast Guard data. Everyone riding a PWC in Arizona is legally required to wear a life jacket.

"While these watercraft can be great fun on the water, it is absolutely critical that they know how to properly pilot a PWC," said Josh Hoffman boating safety education coordinator for AZGFD. "One of the best ways for people to prevent future accidents is to learn how to boat safely and responsibly by taking a boating safety course, where they will learn critical navigation rules and to be mindful of other people on the water."

AZGFD offers free boating and paddlesports safety courses in Phoenix and Lake Havasu City. More information on the course is available at www.azgfd.gov/boating under boating safety education.

Standup paddle boards, kayaks and canoes are legally considered watercraft.

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