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Enforcement Effort Gears Up As Louisiana Deals with Spate of Boating fatalities

Boaters get ready to hit Lake Pontchartain. (FOX 8) Boaters get ready to hit Lake Pontchartain. (FOX 8)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Law enforcement officers will be out on the water this weekend to try and reverse a troubling trend. Boating fatalities are way up, and no one is sure why, but there is a common denominator.

A gorgeous weekend on tap should attract plenty of people to the water, but those waters are becoming less safe and boaters are taking notice.

"I've been playing around with boats since '64," said boater Ray Laiche.

For thousands of boaters, it's one of the joys of living in Louisiana.

"You get out there, and get fresh air, I love it," said Laiche.

But those same waters can turn deadly.

"I've had some close calls," said crabber Norman Groh.

He's been on the water for more than 60 years, but nothing bothers Groh more than seeing others who don't respect the  possible dangers.

"He had him in a lap on a ski doo, running like they always do...that baby couldn't have been 2 years old," said Groh, talking about one of the troubling sites he's seen.

Groh has been catching crabs lately, lots of them, on a lake that hundreds are expected to enjoy this weekend.

But Louisiana waters, are seeing more fatalities  than usual.

"August had 6 and September had 7," said Adam Einck, with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Almost two dozen people have died on Louisiana waters so far this year. That's up, by more than 50-percent over last year.

"Boating can be dangerous ,it can be fun, but you should wear a PFD (lifejacket)," said Laiche.

In fact, that's the common factor in all of last month's boating fatalities. No one was wearing a life jacket, which is only mandatory for those 16 and under.

We checked in at the Bonnabel boat launch and found few wearing them.

"Unfortunately I don't, but everyone should do it," said Laiche.

"It's just an inconvenience," said boater Todd Hebert.

Though boating accidents are up the Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries say they're nowhere near as bad as they used to be.

"In the 80s through 2000, we probably averaged 35-to-45 boating fatalities in a year. In the last five to six years we were in the lower 20s," said Einck.

State officials give credit to mandatory boating safety courses, required for any boat operator born after 1984.

"I probably should take it, I haven't," said Laiche.

Officials plan to step up enforcement in hopes of saving lives.

"The easiest way to make sure people are safe is to make sure everyone is wearing their lifejackets," said Coast Guard petty officer Travis McGee.

Boaters we spoke with say they will be more vigilant, while enjoying waterways which they say are a way of life. 

"It's why I never plan to leave Louisiana it's so much water and a lot of fun," said Hebert.

State officials say many of the boat fatalities have been caused by boats  striking underwater obstructions, and careless operation, but they say the common denominator in all of them is the fact that none of the operators was wearing a life jacket.

They also say it's important to know your surroundings at all times, and take that boating safety course through the department of wildlife and fisheries.

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