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Eight 2015 NY boating deaths were on paddle craft, report says

Of the 16 people who died in boating accidents in New York last year, half were on paddle craft, according to a state annual report.

The percentage of deaths involving these nonmotorized vessels — including kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards — is “far” higher in New York than the national average, according to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which released the report this week. The other fatal accidents occurred on motorboats.

State park officials did not say why New York has a higher percentage of fatal accidents involving paddle craft than the rest of the nation, other than noting that “the northeast has a larger percentage of paddle craft than the rest of the country.”

Overall, last year’s rate of boating fatalities dropped to the fifth lowest since 1970, according to the report. There were 3.58 deaths for every 100,000 registered watercraft. The rate for 2014 was 6.01 deaths for every 100,000 registered vessels. The leading cause of death is drowning.

The number of people taking part in paddle sports has grown over the years with a record 21.7 million participating in 2014, according to The Outdoor Foundation, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. More than half those, 13 million people, went kayaking, making it the most popular form of paddle sport.

Low cost and the proliferation of rental outlets make it easier for more people to enjoy paddle sports, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Matthew Richards of the Long Island Sound Sector in New Haven, Connecticut.

“It’s not only popular, but more accessible,” he said.

Of the eight people who died in New York last year while participating in paddle sports, six were in kayaks and two were in rowboats, according to the report. Most of the kayakers died after their vessels capsized. One man in a rowboat, who did not know how to swim, died after he fell overboard. Another man was found floating facedown after his rowboat capsized.

In most of those cases, people did not wear life preservers. None of the deaths reported in 2015 occurred on Long Island.

So far this year, at least one death involving a paddleboarder has been reported.

Last month, the body of Gary Turkel, 41, was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, about 22 miles south of Jones Inlet, several days after police said he set out on his paddleboard. Turkel, of Atlantic Beach, was not wearing a life jacket.

Two other men — one on a paddleboard and one in a kayak — who had set out on June 12 with a woman and her daughter from Hammonasset Beach State Park near Madison, Connecticut, also died. The woman and her 8-year-old daughter survived despite being blown at least 15 miles across Long Island Sound. Mother and daughter, who wore life preservers, washed up on a beach in Orient.

The Coast Guard urged paddle sports enthusiasts to take one or more classes offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons and others, including paddling clubs and local commercial outfitters.

Paddlers, Lt. Richards said, need to understand their physical limitations as well as the limitations of their paddle craft. And they should always check the weather forecast before heading out.

Most important of all, Lt. Richards said, paddlers should wear life preservers.

“We cannot stress that enough,” he said.

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