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The need for boater safety and instruction

TODAY Travel Editor Peter Greenberg shares simple and smart advice on how to  safely enjoy the water — and keep accidents at bay.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Millions of Americans will hit the water this summer on boats, jet skis, canoes — if it floats on the water, we'll be on it. But there's a serious and growing problem out there — boating accidents and the lack of proper education and training. It is a growing problem. With recreational boating becoming more and more popular, more and more people are operating motorcraft with little or no training, and what's worse — in most U.S. States, they're  not even required to be trained. As a result, a  beautiful day on the water can quickly turn tragic.

It might surprise you to learn that more people die every year in boating accidents than in trains or buses. There are 13 million registered boats out in the u.s.  And according to the U.s. Coast Guard there were nearly 5,000 boating accidents last year, resulting in 710 deaths

The major cause of death? Drowning. Nine out of ten victims were not wearing a life jacket.

The recent death of New England's Patriots player Marquise Hill offers a lesson for boaters everywhere. Hill was not wearing a life jacket when he fell from his jet ski.

Another serious problem? BUI — or boating under the influence accounted for 20% of all boating accidents last year.

And here'sthe most serious underlying problem — just about anyone can operate a boat, most states don't even require a license or a minimum age to get behind the wheel.

Although there are numerous boating safety courses offered across america by the U.S. power squadron in long beach, California — the programs are not mandatory but most safety officials think they’re essential.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also offers boating classes and instruction. So do some marine retail stores, like West Marine (the chain offers life jacket seminars, as well as free vessel safety inspections). And it is easily argued that taking just one of these courses could help save lives. Nearly 70% of all reported deaths occured on boats where the driver had not recieved any boating instruction.

Then there’s the problem of proper equipment. It’s not enough just to carry the required number of PFD’s (personal flotation devides). You need to wear them. Reaching for a life preserver after an accident is like tryng to fasten your seat belt after your car hits a wall.

Also know where fire extinguishers are. don’t just carry one — carry two.

Then there's the problem of boating under the influence. You'd better have a designated driver — who knows how to safely operate a boat – especially if you're out on the water and drinking. and one thing is for sure this summer — the U.S. Coast Guard as well as local  marine police  will be making many more random stops and searches on the water, checking for alcohol as well as safety equipment on board.

In the long term, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Thad Allen wants to have all recreational boaters being required to have state-issued boaters’ licenses — not just because it’s a safety issue. Allen argues it is also a homeland security issue. As part of this initiative, the Coast Guard is seeking authority from Congress that could lead to a national  standard on boating education. Under the proposal, Congress would  amend a section of the United States Code to give the secretary of transportation the power to establish minimum requirements for recreational boater proficiency.

Peter Greenberg is TODAY's travel editor. His column appears weekly on Visit his Web site at .