Watercraft registrations in Arizona rebounded this year, ending nearly a 10-year decline. The increase has likely contributed to an increase in watercraft-related accidents.
To date this year, there were 127,796 watercraft registered in Arizona, which is a 2.7-percent increase from the 124,425 registered in the state in 2014. With the increase in registrations, law enforcement officers statewide recorded a 13-percent jump in watercraft-related accidents this year.
“It was clear that Arizona’s lakes and waterways were teeming with activity this summer,” said Tim Baumgarten, Arizona Game and Fish boating law administrator. “AZGFD officers and our law enforcement partners around the state each reported more traffic on area waterways. While we encourage people to enjoy time outdoors with family and friends, we want everyone to do so safely.”
Between January and Oct. 31, law enforcement responded to 113 accidents, which resulted in 76 injuries and six deaths, according to Arizona Game and Fish Department figures. Throughout 2014, boaters were involved in 100 reportable accidents, resulting in 66 injuries and seven fatalities.
Dropping summer and fall gas prices and our hot, dry weather also likely helped to entice more people to flock to the state’s lakes and rivers to escape the heat. The recent uptick in boating-related accidents followed a near-$1 drop in gasoline prices nationwide over the same period last year.
“A day on the water is now significantly cheaper than it was a year ago and people are eager to spend some time on the water,” Baumgarten said. “While we want everyone to have a great time, all boaters, passengers and watercraft users must remain vigilant. When they are navigating in such congested waters, it’s important for operators to slow down. Speed may create thrills, but as we’ve seen time and again, tragedy can result in a split second.”
To combat such incidents the department regularly coordinates with state and local law enforcement agencies to patrol waterways to ensure everyone is operating lawfully and safely. Officers routinely conduct saturation patrols looking for those operating under the influence (OUI), while the department’s boating safety and education staff provide water users with materials needed to have a safe and fun time on the water.
“Our main goal is to ensure that everyone who goes on our waterways is doing so safely,” said Josh Hoffman, Arizona Game and Fish Boating Safety Education coordinator. “Nobody ever expects the worst when they leave for a day on the lake, but the unexpected does happen. That is why everyone should be prepared at all times by wearing a life jacket and by taking a boating safety course.”
All boats in Arizona must have a life jacket aboard for every passenger and those 12 years old and younger must wear a life jacket at all times, under state law. Users should also check to make sure a life jacket fits properly by ensuring there is no excess room above the openings of the jacket and that it does not ride up over the chin or face.