Ten people have died while boating on South Carolina waters this year, and authorities are encouraging safety measures after accidents have climbed steadily among a growing boating population.
Following 15 recreational boating fatalities in 2017, the deaths so far this year have included reckless collisions, fishermen who fell overboard and other swimming-related tragedies, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Two people died in Charleston and Berkeley counties.
The state's tally doesn't include three fatalities this year tied to commercial boating. Coast Guard Lt. J.B. Zorn said such instances are "relatively rare."
The latest death on a recreational boat happened in Charleston County on July 14. A Mount Pleasant family's plans to enjoy a day on the water took a devastating turn after their flat-bottom Carolina Skiff struck what investigators believe was an oyster bed in Dewees Inlet near Isle of Palms.
DNR Capt. Robert McCullough said a woman who'd been sitting on a cooler in front of the console was thrown from the boat, which immediately ran over her.
McCullough said a life jacket would have saved lives in up to 80 percent of all the state's boating deaths. In one example from June, a man drowned in Richland County after declining his wife's requests to put on a life jacket before jumping from a pontoon boat into Lake Murray.
His wife tossed him a personal flotation device and several pool noodles but couldn't reach him before he slipped underwater, according to a DNR accident report.
McCullough said a life jacket wouldn't have changed the outcome of the Dewees Inlet boating accident, which unfolded "within seconds."
"It's a terrible tragedy," he said. "It was just one of those circumstances that happened very quickly, and that's how fast something can happen in a boat."
That incident marked the second Charleston-area fatality in a span of eight days after a commercial boat hit a seawall on the Cooper River, stunning some within the local boating community.
"No accident out in the water should ever result in the loss of life," said Raymond Harvey, operations manager at Air-Sea Safety & Survival, a marine equipment business in Charleston.
Recreational boating accidents in South Carolina increased by 45 percent from 2013 to 2017, according to data compiled by the Coast Guard. Harvey said deadly mishaps serve as a reminder of the importance of following oft-repeated safety tips: know your surroundings, maintain a proper lookout, wear a life jacket, check the weather and let someone know your float plan.
Also, many boats have engine kill switches and attachments.
To Charles Wilber, an education officer with the Charleston Sail and Power Squadron, it's troubling that most people on the water seem to operate without full knowledge of the state's boating laws and best practices.
When he first moved to the Lowcountry from New England, Wilber said he was shocked by the careless behavior he saw in the Charleston Harbor. He observed near misses, watercraft that blasted past marina no-wake signs and people riding along the front of slow-moving boats with their feet hanging off.
"I was totally shocked that there were so many things being ignored," he said.
Wilber tries to stamp out those bad habits when teaching boating classes through the power squadron. An introductory course covers the basics of boating safety. The class typically attracts people who are new to the area and have just purchased a boat for the first time, he said.
Wilber wishes more boaters signed up for safety courses, which are also offered by the DNR and Coast Guard Auxiliary. Boat operators under the age of 16 must pass a DNR-approved class unless they're accompanied by someone 18 or older, but education for adults isn't mandatory in South Carolina.
In 2015, education was the chief concern among members of the public who attended town halls about boating safety hosted by the DNR. Participants from across the state agreed that education courses should be mandatory, and they expressed frustration with boaters "who seemed to ignore boating laws or willfully defy them," according to a report commissioned by the state senate.
McCullough said there's no overarching "rhyme or reason" behind why the number of South Carolina's boating deaths fluctuates, peaking at close to 30 fatalities annually over the past decade. DNR has tried to curb the cycle through safety education and efforts to increase the number of officers patrolling the water.
"We want everybody to get out there and enjoy the resource," McCullough said, "but we want everybody to get home safe."