Boating is a popular recreational activity in South Carolina, with easy access to not just the Atlantic Ocean but numerous lakes, rivers, creeks and ponds.

But boating also takes a devastating annual death toll in our state. And while more widespread enforcement of boating laws would likely help reduce those horrendous figures, the best defense against boating fatalities remains adherence to practical safety methods.

According to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, 28 people died in boating accidents in our state last year, raising the 2010 through 2013 total to 87. Those grim statistics were compiled despite the General Assembly's strengthening of boating safety laws over the last decade, including stiffer penalties for driving a boat under the influence of alcohol.

A recent Post and Courier included a story from The State newspaper reporting those numbers and recalling "that terrible spring of 2010, when four people were killed on Lake Murray in two boating collisions just minutes apart." The story added: "Both crashes were alcohol-related."

Another obvious hazard: Just as the rising number of cars and trucks on S.C. highways have created higher accident risks, so have the rising number of boats on S.C. waterways. Both elevated traffic perils are predictable results of South Carolina's remarkable population growth over the last few decades.

Yet numbers alone can't convey the awful heartbreak of boating accidents. For instance, in a tragedy unrelated to alcohol, a Mount Pleasant teenager recently died after falling off a boat at a local marina. The sad, familiar reminder here is that while boating can be fun, it can also be very dangerous.

On a brighter note, boater education courses help reduce those risks when the lessons they teach are followed.

Boaters also should realize that violation of regulations can draw serious consequences from DNR and other law-enforcement agencies.

Of course, the best reason to practice boating safety isn't to make sure you stay out of trouble with the authorities.

It's to make sure you - and everybody else in your boat and on the water - stays alive.

And one proven way to do that is by wearing a life jacket.

No, S.C. law doesn't require you to do so - unless you're under 12 years old and on a boat less than 16 feet long.

But the law does demand that each boat have a personal flotation device for each person aboard.

And common sense demands recognizing - and minimizing - the dangers of boating.