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As National Safe Boating Week is recognized, how safe are Whatcom County's waterways?

A fishing boat leaves Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham in September of 2013. According to statistics released last week by the Washington State Parks Boating Program, there were only two boating accidents in Whatcom County water in 2017 — down from eight in 2016, though boating-related fatalities remained at one.
A fishing boat leaves Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham in September of 2013. According to statistics released last week by the Washington State Parks Boating Program, there were only two boating accidents in Whatcom County water in 2017 — down from eight in 2016, though boating-related fatalities remained at one. The Bellingham Herald file

Though there was a 75-percent drop in the number of boating accidents in Whatcom County waters in 2017, there's still work to be done, as the number of fatalities remained the same as in 2016.

As part of that effort to further reduce boating accidents, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary partnered with Washington state public safety professionals for National Safe Boating Week, which began Saturday and runs through Friday.

According to statistics released last week by the Washington State Parks Boating Program, there were only two boating accidents in Whatcom County waters in 2017 — down from eight in 2016. The 2017 number tied for 13th in the state behind No. 1 King County, which had 25 accidents.

One of those accidents last year resulted in a fatality. That ranked Whatcom County third in the state behind No. 1 Snohomish County's three fatalities.

Fortunately, there were no other boating-related injuries reported in 2017 for Whatcom County and there was only $200 worth of damage reported from boating accidents in 2017, according to the report.

Overall, there were 114 reported boat accidents last year, up slightly from 106 in 2016. But the number of boating-related injuries (50) and deaths (15) were down from the year before. The amount of damage caused in those accidents also was down to $1,279,567, its lowest mark since 2013, when damages stayed below $1 million.

Other statewide highlights from the 2017 report included:

▪ The fatality rate (13.2 deaths per 100 accidents) saw a 22.4 percent decrease in 2017, while the injury rate (43.9 injuries per 100 accidents) dropped 15.5 percent from 2016.

▪ Operator inattention (23 percent) was the leading cause of boating accidents, followed by inexperience (15 percent) and alcohol or drug use (nine percent), though alcohol and/or drug use was the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents (44 percent).

▪ The top three types of accidents were collision with a recreational boat (39 percent), collision with a fixed object (eight percent) and flooding or swamping (eight percent).

▪ The most common vessel types involved in fatal accidents, where data was known, were kayaks (31 percent), followed by open motorboat (25 percent) and cabin motorboat (19 percent). Forty-seven percent of the boats involved in a fatal accidents were classified as paddlesport vessels.

Gary Pierce, a kayaker from Winthrop, Massachusetts, talks about safety precautions kayakers should take. Pierce was rescued by the Coast Guard in October of 2017 in Boston Harbor after he was beset by weather.

National Boating Week hopes to make the waterways even safer in 2018.

According to a release from the Coast Guard Auxiliary, wearing a life jacket can prevent more than 80 percent of boating fatalities.

Washington state law requires children 12 and younger to wear a life jacket at all times, and all vessels — including canoes, kayaks, and standup paddleboards — must have at least one properly fitted life jacket for each person on board. More information about life jackets is available at wearitwashington.org.

Washington residents also must carry a Boater Education Card while operating a power boat of greater than 15 horsepower. Information on how to get one is available at boat.wa.gov.

The U.S. Coast Guard provides more safe boating tips at uscboating.org.

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