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Coast Guard mobile phone app aims to keep recreational boaters safe

This is a view of the new Coast

This is a view of the new Coast Guard mobile app for boaters.The app will let boaters who run into trouble contact the Coast Guard and a GPS feature will help the coast Guard pinpoint their location. Users will also be able to access a variety of helpful boating inoformation through the app. Credit: United States Coast Guard

Recreational boaters on Long Island who run into trouble can contact the U.S. Coast Guard or police with a new mobile phone app that features an emergency button.

The Coast Guard's first boating safety app addresses an age-old problem -- finding boaters in distress who can't pinpoint their location.

The emergency feature starts by displaying the user's latitude and longitude, based on the cellphone's location, said Lt. Ana Visneski, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

With another touch, boaters can call the Coast Guard or 911 with that information.

The free app includes other helpful features, from the latest local weather to model "float plans," which advise family and friends when boaters expect to return.

Recreational boaters, especially those who cannot stow marine radios, have the most to gain.

"The app is specifically geared toward, say, a kayaker, who might carry a flare, but not exactly have room for a radio," Visneski said. "Keep the phones in a Ziploc bag."

In water emergencies, though, marine radios are best, said Walt Taylor, a boating safety specialist for the Coast Guard in Boston. "Cellphone availability is unreliable some of the time."

Law enforcement agencies monitor marine radios -- as do nearby boaters, he said.

The app, offered at Apple and Google Play app stores, was released last month as the Coast Guard reported that 610 recreational boaters died nationwide last year, up from 560 in 2013.

New York ranked 23rd, with 27 fatalities, or 6 per 100,000 registered vessels, the state's highest ratio in a decade. The U.S. rate last year rose to 5.2 versus per 100,000 vessels from 4.7 in 2013.

Of boating deaths nationwide, the report said 78 percent drowned and 84 percent were not wearing life jackets. Alcohol was a contributing factor in 13 accidents and seven deaths in New York.When daytime visibility was good, there were 381 deaths, according to the report.

Fair weather "increases the population on the water, and the chance of a mishap or collision occurring," explained Sgt. John Vahey of the Suffolk police Marine Bureau.

And boaters might skip life jackets when skies are sunny and waters calm, said Ron Sarver of the National Association of State Boat Law Administrators.

"Just anecdotally, if they're going out, and it's rough, and they see a storm coming, they might put a life jacket on."

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