As boat enthusiasts from across the country gear up for another season of fun and relaxation, boating safety becomes more critical than ever.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in an effort to stress this importance, has teamed up with the National Safe Boating Council and other boating safety advocates to promote National Safe Boating Week.
Starting today and ending on May 23, the week symbolically kicks off the 2014 Safe Boating Campaign, a yearlong effort to promote safe and responsible boating as well as the value of wearing a life jacket.
"Throughout the year, hundreds of people drown or die in boating accidents, and the majority of the deaths could have been prevented," said Pam Doty, national water safety program manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
We want (people) to come out and enjoy national lakes and rivers and return home safely," Doty said.
Indeed, the local area is not immune to boating accidents.
On May 10, a boat carrying two Pennsylvania men capsized on Chautauqua Lake (near Bemus Point) due to high winds and choppy waters.
By the time the men were brought to shore, one of them was already unresponsive and died the next day.
Joseph Gerace, Chautauqua County sheriff, strongly advised boaters to use caution while on the water.
"We encourage boaters to prepare themselves for the boating season by making sure (their boats) have enough personal flotation devices on board for every passenger, and that they're age appropriate and in perfect condition," Gerace said. "(Boaters should) follow the rules of the waterway and never operate (their) vessel under the influence of alcohol or any other drug."
Gerace, who described safe boating as a "huge priority" for the Sheriff's Office, indicated that his deputies patrol Chautauqua, Cassadaga and Findley lakes as well as Lake Erie.
Patrols operate throughout the summer months until Labor Day, with up to three patrolling Chautauqua Lake on a busy weekend.
According to Gerace, traffic volume and reckless operation are the leading contributors to boating accidents.
"People operating too quickly (is a problem)," he said. "We have issues with jet skis and a lot of that involves operating them too quickly or too close to vessels or the shore."
For more information on the 2014 Safe Boating Campaign, visit www.safeboatingcampaign.com.