This Memorial Day, as so many are serving to protect fellow citizens from the novel coronavirus, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Your U.S. Coast Guard, as the nation’s maritime first responder, has risen to the unprecedented challenge of this pandemic.
While we have adapted to this clear and present risk, we have also continued to conduct every statutory mission entrusted to us. These are missions that safeguard Americans, such as the enforcement of our maritime borders against illegal narcotics and migrant trafficking; and our role protecting ports and waterways, ensuring free movement of vital maritime commerce. With its dual law enforcement and military authorities, leading through crisis has long been engrained into the Coast Guard’s culture.
The Coast Guard, under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and partners – facilitated the safe landing of more than 250,000 cruise ship passengers in a manner that mitigated further spread of the coronavirus. As the nation begins to ease stay-at-home and similar restrictions, the reopening of western Florida and many other waterfront regions will encourage recreational mariners to return to the waters we love. It is imperative mariners review local rules on boater physical-distancing requirements.
In addition to acquainting yourself with new guidelines, remember the old ones. May 16 to 22 is National Safe Boating Week – a perfect time to review boating safety. The latest statistics show that more than 77 percent of all fatalities on the water are caused by drowning, and 84 percent of those victims were not wearing a life-jacket. Life jackets save lives. Wear them!
Preparation is key, but once you’re on the water, operating responsibly is the top priority. Alcohol continues to be the leading factor in fatal boating accidents, and one-third of boating violations involve alcohol. If you plan to boat at night, ensure you are familiar with the area and that you know how to operate all of your navigational equipment, including how to dim screens so that you can maintain your night vision. Most importantly, proceed at a safe speed, where you have time to assess your position and to determine the locations and movements of other vessels. I encourage each and every boater – from the mega-yachtsman to the kayaker – to own and register an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or a Personal Locator Beacon. These relatively inexpensive devices can make the difference between life and death.
As our nation’s premier maritime responder, the Coast Guard works with many partners to protect those along and off our shorelines. I ask that you please boat responsibly, and never operate under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as you return to the boating activities you love. Finally, as we enter hurricane season, continue to manage the risks of COVID-19, and enter the season of increased recreational boating, know your Coast Guard is Always Ready - Semper Paratus.
Rear Admiral Eric C. Jones is the Commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District headquartered in Miami. He is responsible for all Coast Guard operations in the Southeast United States and the Caribbean Basin, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.