The Most Important Resolutions are the Toughest

Star Spangled Spectacular Press Conference

Capt. Kevin Kiefer, commander of Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, briefs media on affects to recreational boating traffic during the Star Spangled Spectacular, Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. The media briefing was a way for city representatives to inform the public on road closures, changes to public transportation, security measures and the affect on boating traffic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer David R. Marin

 

Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class David R. Marin

It’s that time of year again. A time to reflect on what happened the previous year and what to improve on in the upcoming one. It’s a time to start over with a clean slate and to improve for the future.

There are all types of resolutions. Some are about getting healthier, some are about learning more and others are about doing more to help others. What is a common thread in all resolutions is a necessity to look at oneself with a desire to improve.

For Coast Guard commands, things aren’t much different. Looking at the past year’s statistics is something all commands do, and by doing so, there comes an understanding of what is working and to what extent.

This year, Capt. Kevin Kiefer is focusing on increasing efforts to educate the public on boating safety.

Kiefer is the commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Baltimore and is in charge of all Coast Guard missions in Maryland and the National Capital Region. His duties include being the regional search and rescue coordinator and being the one who makes next-of-kin notifications when there is a death in the maritime realm.

“It’s always difficult to hear about a fatality or when someone is missing,” said Kiefer. “It’s really hard to notify their next-of-kin that we are not going to search any longer.”

A lot of time and resources go into calculating the point it becomes unlikely for someone to still be alive. Even with that information, searches tend to exceed that probability.

“The decision to suspend a search is not taken lightly,” added Kiefer. “We do our best to convey this to the next of kin. We provide them with the details of the case, including the resources, area and total time searched. We also inform them when we have exhausted all local, state, federal and private resources.”

Reducing the loss of life on the water has been a part of the service from its roots. Through all its evolutions, the service has a history of reflection and improvement.

Capt. Kiefer boards Coast Guard Cutter Eagle

Capt. Kevin Kiefer, commander of Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, boards the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle for a reception during the Star Spangled Spectacular, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. The reception was held as part of the kick-off to the Star Spangled Spectacular. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer David R. Marin

“That’s why we place such an emphasis on prevention efforts,” said Kiefer. “If we can get boaters to wear life jackets and stop boating under the influence of drugs and alcohol, we can prevent many boating accidents and fatalities.”

The Coast Guard has the responsibility of collecting, analyzing and annually publishing recreational boating statistics.

According to the 2014 report, which covered the statistics for 2013, the number of accidents in Maryland fell for the last three years from 196 in 2010 to 110 last year.

Unfortunately the number of boating mishaps leading to deaths during that time increased from nine to 14.

The study also states, where cause of death is known, 77 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those who drowned, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

“It’s important to know that of the small percentage of people who drowned while wearing life jackets, some were not wearing the proper size or type,” said Lt. Erin Slycord, chief of Sector Baltimore’s Command Center.

“One of the most difficult cases I was involved in happened a couple years ago on the Chesapeake Bay,” said Kiefer. “It was a beautiful day for sailing when a strong storm cell blew through and knocked a sailboat over. A couple boaters fell into the water, and one, in his 20’s, who was reported as being a very strong swimmer, went into the water and was holding onto the bow of the sailboat talking to those aboard. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket, but because he was a strong swimmer, they decided to have him swim to the stern to climb aboard via the stern ladder while they focused on bringing the other person back aboard. As he swam toward the stern, he went under and was never seen again. We believe he may have hit his head on the boat and was knocked unconscious, which led to his drowning. If he had been wearing a life jacket, he may have survived.”

Whether providing more boater education courses or putting out public service announcements, the Coast Guard strives to educate the boating community.

“During my first year, we looked at the number of boating deaths in the upper Chesapeake Bay and found most were related to boating under the influence,” added Kiefer. “For the second year, we decided to target BUI enforcement to help prevent boating accidents. We also asked the Coast Guard Auxiliary to make a push on boating safety education and wearing life jackets. We discussed this approach with our port partners and worked especially close with the Maryland Natural Resource Police, who embraced and support our efforts.”

Even though preliminary numbers show a decrease in boating-related fatalities in 2014, this year Kiefer wants to put out the message even sooner.

The goal to place a greater effort on boater education is one that will hopefully lead to a reduced number of accidents and deaths.

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