Of the 13 people who died so far in boating accidents on Louisiana waterways in 2016, more than half of them could have potentially survived if they had been wearing a personal flotation device at the time of the incident, according to officials with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

“The biggest thing without a doubt is life jackets. At least seven of the 13 fatalities would have had a much better chance of survival,” said Lt. Clay Marques, boating education coordinator, who outlined a few basic safety pointers to keep in mind when operating a vessel. “Having a proper lookout and going at appropriate speeds are also important.

“We don’t really have speed limits on the water, but you have to have some common sense to know if you’re going under a bridge, you should slow down a little bit. Slow it down in no wake zones, and have your running lights on. People are starting to have designated drivers, and that’s what we want.”

Having 13 fatalities by mid-July puts 2016 on pace with recent years as far as deaths on the water, Marques said. In 2014, there were 22 reported boating fatalities, and just 15 in 2013 - the lowest number ever recorded.

“Gas prices were higher in 2013, so that might have cut down on the number of people out on the water,” he said. “That might have influenced the amount of traffic, and the more traffic you have out there, the more incidents you’ll have.”

LDWF spokesman Adam Einck said accidents can happen to anyone — even those with lots of experience on the water — as evidenced by the ages of some of the victims this year.

“Some of these guys had probably been boating their whole lives. They’re up there in age — in their 40s, 50s, all the way into their 70s. Lots of them probably never wore a life jacket because it’s not required and they thought you never needed to,” Einck said. “But you never know what can happen to you out there on the water even if you can swim, so it’s always a good idea to wear a life jacket.”

Several of the fatal accidents appear to be alcohol-related, and Marques stressed that drinking and boating don’t mix.

“I think everybody knows now the penalty for drinking on the water is the same as on the highway,” Marques said. “If you’re caught driving while intoxicated by a game warden, it’s the same as being caught by state trooper. 

“Alcohol plays a part in your reaction time and decision making, and you throw the sun in there and it really does have an environmental effect on you.”

All Louisiana boaters born after Jan. 1, 1984 are required to take a boater education course, and must carry proof of course completion with them when they’re operating a boat with a motor in excess of 10 hp, Marques said. 

For more information from LDWF on boater safety, and how to schedule a boater education course online or with an instructor, click here.

“Boating is difficult if you don’t do it often, and the more you do it, the better you’re going to be,” Marques said.