Hunters at High Risk for Boating Deaths

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One out of three people who die on the water in the United States each year are hunters or anglers.

A weary sadness is audible in Water Patrol Sgt. Paul Kennedy's voice when he tells the story of Missouri's most recent hunting-related boating fatality. Sadness because the victim was only 14 years old. The weariness comes from seeing similar circumstances involved in so many boating deaths.

Seth R. Wykoff, Greenwood, went duck hunting on Montrose Lake in Henry County before sunrise Dec. 13. His adult companions did not bring any life jackets, and Wykoff had not told them that he could not swim. Their 15-foot johnboat was overloaded, with four hunters, a retriever, shotguns and other gear. When the boat took on water and sank, the hunters' heavy clothing and waders full of water made it difficult to swim, let alone rescue Wykoff. Rescue workers recovered the boy's body, but cold-water resuscitation efforts failed to revive him.

"It's no different than what is occurring all over the nation," said Kennedy, who is director of public information and safety education for the Water Patrol. "Time and again, hunters and anglers fail to take simple precautions that could save their lives."

Of the 321 boating accidents recorded by the Water Patrol last year, 16 resulted in deaths. Half those deaths occurred when people fell out of boats. Three involved collisions with fixed objects, and another three resulted from swamping or capsizing.

Nine out of 10 fatal boating accidents involve people who were not wearing life jackets. Most involve men age 30 to 50 -- in the prime of life. In most cases, the victims are riding in flat-bottomed or semi-V hulled boats 16 feet or smaller.

The Water Patrol does not track how many people die in boating accidents while hunting or fishing. However, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, one out of every three people who die on the water nationwide is a hunter or angler. While the number of all boating fatalities decreased between 1995 and 2000, the percentage of hunters and anglers increased.

Seventy percent of hunting-related boating deaths happened when people fell overboard as a result of improper boat loading or unsafe movements. Gunshot injuries didn't even come close to accounting for as many fatalities as drowning.

Among anglers, one-quarter of drownings resulted when people fell from boats. Thirty percent happened when anglers' boats capsized. Half happened on lakes, ponds or reservoirs.

Kennedy said the best thing anyone can do to prevent boating deaths is to take a boating safety course. Starting next year, this will be mandatory for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1984. "You can get ahead of the game by taking a boating safety course now," said Kennedy. "Much more important, you could save the life of someone you love, or yourself."