Arizona boating fatalities up

PHOENIX — Arizona is one of the most dangerous states in the country to operate a watercraft, with six of the nation’s 15 most dangerous waterways, according to the Coast Guard. And with the state reaching the highest number of boating fatalities in 2006 since 1998, that danger only seems to be increasing.

“In 2006 alone, Arizona waterways were the location of 255 accidents with 153 injuries and 14 deaths,” said Kevin Bergersen, Arizona Game and Fish Department boating law administrator, in a recent statement. “We want to help turn things around by encouraging people to take boating safety classes.”

Over the last 10 years, Arizona has seen an average of 4.3 million boat use days by boating enthusiasts and visitors from nearby states with stricter laws, the department reported. According to Behavior Research Center’s 2006 Arizona Watercraft Survey, boat use days in the state continue to remain high by boaters from Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. The Colorado River and lakes Havasu, Mohave, Mead and Powell are the hot spots where most accidents occur, according to the state’s Fish and Game Department.

While user and accident rates appear to be growing, boating safety course attendance is not going up at the same rate in Arizona, it stated. Seventy-eight percent of all recreational boaters and watercraft users involved in accidents have never participated in any type of formal boating safety education. This training is not required in Arizona.

The state’s high rate of boating accidents makes it clear that changing behavior and educating the boating public are critical needs, the department said. The top reasons for boating accidents in Arizona are operator inexperience, weather, navigation rule violations, and operating under the influence.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department said it currently offers boating safety education free to the public.

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