A boating safety demonstration is conducted near Kihei Boat Ramp, on Maui, Hawaii, on May 23, 2010.

A boating safety demonstration is conducted near Kihei Boat Ramp, on Maui, Hawaii, on May 23, 2010. (Angela Henderson/U.S. Coast Guard)

(Tribune News Service) — Federal and local agencies are trying to get the word out to island residents about National Safe Boating Week and asking people to boat safely and care for the surrounding environment and wildlife while they are in the water.

At Coast Guard Base Honolulu, local officials kicked off the national campaign in Hawaii with a small press conference Friday.

"Driving on H-1 definitely takes awareness, " said Capt. Rob Kristner, Coast Guard District 14's chief of prevention. "But when I think about the level of preparedness it takes to get on the water, that's very different than when I get in my car. And off I go right. When you get in a boat, you need to make sure well in advance that you have all the supplies that you need, that your boat is a good condition. Because driving and boating are very different."

According to Coast Guard statistics, in 2022 drowning was reported as the No. 1 cause of boating deaths and accounted for 75% of boating fatalities in Hawaii. Out of those cases, 85% of individuals were not wearing their life jackets, and two-thirds drowned despite being considered good swimmers.

"If you run into an emergency when you're on the road, you can pull over. If you run into emergency when you're on the water, you're on the water, " Kristner said. "(Hawaii is an ) absolutely beautiful place to be on the water, one of the most beautiful places on earth to be in the water, (but it ) has some unique hazards. This is a very dangerous area to be in the water. The ocean is large and unpredictable, and also has various marine life hazards."

For National Safe Boating Week, which runs today through Friday, officials are urging people to take advantage of free vessel inspections offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to ensure boats are structurally sound and properly supplied. Jason Snelling, the Coast Guard Auxiliary's district staff officer for boat examinations, said they're willing to look at boats as big as yachts and as small as kayaks.

"We'll come to the boat wherever it is, " Snelling said. "Whether it's in a trailer, in the marina, at their house, on a boat ramp, we can do a boating safety check for them that's complimentary—so no penalty if they pass or fail."

Adam Kurtz, protected species management specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stressed the need to look out for marine creatures, saying "when we're boating, we need to remember that we're entering the homes of our sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, dolphins and whales. And we need to act responsibly to prevent any harm and to minimize any disturbance so they can rest and shelter and care for their young."

Federal law requires that boaters stay at least 50 yards away from Hawaiian spinner dolphins and 100 yards from humpback whales. NOAA also recommends staying 50 feet from Hawaiian monk seals and at least 10 feet from sea turtles.

"For our sea turtles, boat strikes are one of the leading causes of injury and death in our region, " Kurtz said. "Our sea turtle stranding program receives 10 to 25 turtles struck by boats each year. But we estimate that only a few turtles (get stranded ) and there might actually be up to 200 strikes per year."

For more information, go to free vessel inspections and to protected marine life in Hawaii.

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