The Coast Guard's urgent plea to holiday boaters

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HOUSTON - The Fourth of July is a busy holiday on the water. That's why the U.S. Coast Guard is sending out an alert for boaters.

According to the Coast Guard, 71 percent of all 2012 fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those, 85 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Twenty-four children under age 13 lost their lives while boating in 2012.

Drinking and driving on the water has also proven to be dangerous during the holidays. Approximately 17 percent of all fatalities were the result of boating under the influence.

The Coast Guard has compiled this safety checklist for anyone who spends the holiday on the water:

(1) Always wear a life jacket. Since there is little time to reach for stowed vests when accidents occur, wearing one at all times reduces your risk of drowning. Federal law requires you to have a personal floatation device on board for each passenger.

(2) Have a VHF-FM marine-band radio on board. If you are in distress, you can reach the Coast Guard on marine-band channel 16, the distress channel. The Coast Guard, other rescue agencies and other boaters monitor marine-band radios 24/7, which increases the number of people who can respond. Though cell phones are better than no communication device at all, they tend to have gaps in coverage while on the water and have limited battery life.

(3) Have a float plan. A float plan is simply letting family and friends know where you are going and your expected time of return. File a float plan with someone who is not getting underway with you and stick to the plan. If you change plans, contact the person. A float plan assists responders in the search of an overdue boater who may be in distress.

(4) Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas produced any time a carbon-based fuel, such as gasoline, propane, charcoal, or oil burns. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Sources on your boat include gasoline engines, generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters.

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