National Safe Boating Week, May 18-24, Highlights the Importance of Always Wearing Life Jackets

Published on Thursday, May 23, 2024

PROVIDENCE, RI – Environmental Police Officers from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are teaming up with boating safety advocates across the United States and Canada to promote safe and responsible boating and consistent life jacket wear during National Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 18-24. Throughout the week, DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) has increased water patrols, conducted boating safety inspections, and provided information on boating safety. Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, DEM is reminding boaters to prepare for the boating season by being responsible and wearing a US Coast Guard (USCG)-approved personal flotation device (PFD). 

"The key to safe boating is wearing a life jacket,” said Deputy Chief Michael Schipritt from DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement. “A person who suffers swimming failure or loss of consciousness will stay afloat wearing a life jacket but will drown without one. There is no time to put a life jacket on just before a boating accident – it’s no different than attempting to buckle your seat belt just before a car crash." 

National Safe Boating Week also is the official launch of the 2024 North American safe boating campaign. This year-long effort promotes safe and responsible boating and the value of voluntary life jacket wear by recreational boaters through the national theme, Wear It! The campaign reminds boaters of the importance of boating safely, boating sober, knowing navigational rules, and having a proper lookout. 

According to the US Coast Guard, drowning was the reported cause of death in 75 percent of all fatal boating accidents, and 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. According to RI law, the limits (.08 blood alcohol content) and penalties are the same for driving and boating under the influence. Testing standards also are consistent. There are nearly 40,000 registered boats in Rhode Island. 

Boaters should also be aware of the latest boating safety regulations, which were written to save lives. Violations could result in the imposition of a $100 ticket. The current PFD regulation states that all operators and passengers of canoes, kayaks, sailboards, kiteboards, paddleboards, and any other paddle craft must always wear a USCG-approved PFD while underway regardless of age. Another recent regulation that could prevent injuries and save lives is a restriction prohibiting anyone from riding on the bow of a powerboat unless it’s equipped with bow seats designed to accommodate passengers or from hanging their feet and legs over the top of the gunwale anywhere on the boat while underway.

Another rule requires boaters to slow down and move over when emergency vessels — such as USCG, firefighting, harbormaster, and DEM boats – are within 300 feet of the boater and have their emergency lights activated. A fourth regulation requires all fire extinguishers on boats to abide by their age expiration date. Typically, the date of manufacture is printed on the bottom of the fire extinguisher. The last new regulation relates to engine cut-off switch compliance. Specifically, the captain of a recreational boat that’s 26 feet long or less that’s equipped with an engine cut-off switch must use the switch if the boat is “on plane or above displacement speed.” Displacement speed is the speed at which the wavelength of a vessel’s bow wave is equal to the waterline length of a vessel. As boat speed increases, the wavelength of the bow wave also increases.

For information on Rhode Island boating laws, please visit For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.