Because of COVID-19, the State Police has seen more residents who've been working from home, or out of work entirely, taking their boats out on the state's waters with the added free time.

So with the summer in full swing, the NJSP Marine Services Bureau wants to remind boaters and their passengers to use common sense with personal watercrafts and watch their speed.

Excessive speed is a contributing factor in boating fatalities, numbers which are not trending in the right direction.

"For the year 2020, we're already at 43 accidents, we've had 11 injuries, and we've had four fatals already this year," Sgt. William Tirotti said.

In 2019, there were four boating fatalities in New Jersey for the entire year, stemming from 123 total accidents and among 74 injuries. Nationally, 613 people died as a result of more than 4,000 boating accidents in 2019. Tirotti said 80% of those deaths were drownings, and of those, 90% of victims were not wearing life jackets.

"The State Police is really pushing to get mandatory wear of life jackets, where currently on the books with the law, it's only 12 years old and under," Tirotti said, adding that life jackets are not as bulky nowadays as the long-held perception about their lack of comfort would suggest.

Tirotti said this year's four New Jersey fatalities were attributable to paddle sport mishaps in which life jackets were not being used.

The July 4th weekend will serve as the launch for the Marine Services Bureau's "Operation Dry Water," when dedicated patrols will monitor boating under the influence, although Tirotti said enforcement against that is a year-round campaign.

In educating the public about boating dangers, the bureau counts alcohol use as one of its major impediments to safety, along with operator inexperience or inattention, improper lookout, and excessive speed.

Drinking and boating presents a unique set of challenges that distinguishes it from even drinking and driving, according to Tirotti.

"Every time you're trying to balance on a boat, which is the entire time you're on it, you're activating your core muscles, so you're going to get fatigued. So alcohol adds so much more stress to your body while you're on a boat," he said. "Once you get passengers that are out there on a boat, they're drinking, they're susceptible to other mishaps — slips and falls, whether in the vessel or they fall out of the vessel."

With 200,000 boating safety certificates newly attained in New Jersey in the last year alone, the Marine Services Bureau encourages boaters to go to its website for a checklist of necessary equipment and precautions. For this season specifically, there are also social distancing boating guidelines for New Jerseyans to follow.

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