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Want to boat or paddle this summer? Wear a life jacket
It is the first rule for safely navigating Arizona’s waterways, Game and Fish official says

Water recreation on area lakes — such as Willow Lake, pictured here — should be conducted with safety in mind, Arizona Game and Fish officials say. (Jessica Moser/Courtesy)

Water recreation on area lakes — such as Willow Lake, pictured here — should be conducted with safety in mind, Arizona Game and Fish officials say. (Jessica Moser/Courtesy)

If Josh Hoffman had to give one piece of advice to boaters and water-recreation enthusiasts on Arizona’s waterways this summer, he would tell them to wear life jackets.

Hoffman, the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s boating safety education coordinator, says it is the simplest way to ensure that everyone who goes out on a lake, river or stream returns to shore on their own two feet.

State law requires children 12 and younger to put on a life jacket.

“Drowning is the leading cause of fatalities [on the water],” Hoffman said. “… More than 80% of all boating fatalities come from drownings, and 75% of them were not wearing a life jacket.”

Although Hoffman has noticed “a lot of lack of life jackets” being worn lately, he added that the livery at Watson Lake in Prescott “is very diligent in making renters wear life jackets.” State law requires liveries to provide life jackets.

Those who ride stand-up paddleboards still need to wear a life jacket or a leash, Hoffman said, because if the board gets kicked away from you, it “can disappear in a hurry.” Paddleboards are not legally considered a floatation device.

“There is not a high enough risk awareness,” he added. “… At least wear a leash if you have no life jacket.”

The good news? You can buy a standard life jacket for anywhere from $35 to $50.

Inflatable life jackets are preferable for those 16 and older in the hot summer months, however, because they are lightweight and are not as hot to wear. Inflatables don’t come cheap, though, and there is a learning curve involved, Hoffman said. Carbon dioxide cartridges are part of the expense, whether they are for a waist pack or a shoulder harness.

“You’ve got to learn how to operate them,” he added about inflatable life jackets.

So, what if you are a parent enjoying a boat ride out on the water with your children? You say that you are a good swimmer and don’t need a life jacket, as long as your kids are wearing them?

Bad idea, Hoffman says, because you can endanger your life when you’re trying to save someone from drowning.

“Mom and Dad should wear life jackets,” he added.

If you are on the shoreline and notice someone in danger of drowning, water-safety experts encourage you to call 911 for help.

And if you feel compelled to help someone? You guessed it: Wear a life jacket.

TOP FIVE BOATING/PADDLING SAFETY TIPS

What follows are five boating/paddling safety tips from the Arizona Game and Fish Department:

• Tip No. 1: Wear a life jacket.

“The possibility of accidentally swimming when using a kayak or paddleboard is pretty good,” Hoffman said. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that 85% of canoeing deaths and 48% of kayaking deaths involve someone not wearing a life jacket.

• Tip No. 2: Stay hydrated.

“We know the sun does a number on our systems, so don’t leave your fluids on the beach; but avoid high-sugar drinks and alcohol,” Hoffman said.

• Tip No. 3: Know your limits.

“Don’t paddle the length of the lake with the wind if you aren’t ready to paddle back against the wind,” Hoffman said. “Build up to bigger adventures.”

• Tip No. 4: Keep an eye on the weather.

“Conditions can change in a hurry, particularly in the summer months,” Hoffman said. “Wait out thunderstorms and the accompanying wind and lightning from a safe place on shore.”

• Tip No. 5: Wear a leash when using a paddleboard.

“The leash means you will be able to recover your board if you fall in the water,” Hoffman said.

Follow Doug Cook on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.

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