Safety first when boating

With Memorial Day approaching, Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ conservation officers remind Michigan residents to practice safety when boating.

This is National Safe Boating Week, an effort to remind people to follow some boating safety tips.

“Safe boating means making it a habit to put on your life jacket – and making sure everyone in your boat has one on, too – before you turn the key and pull your boat from the dock,” said Roy Zellmer, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation warden and boating law administrator. “The belief you will be able to get the jacket on as you fall over the boat’s side for whatever reason is unrealistic.”

The Michigan DNR encourages area residents and visitors to:

– Wear a life jacket. More than 80 percent of drowning accidents in the United States are due to people not wearing their life jackets.

– Make sure your boat is properly equipped and your equipment is in good working order. In addition to all legally required equipment, such as life jackets and fire extinguishers, always carry a first-aid kit, nautical charts and an anchor. Make sure your navigation lights are working properly.

– Avoid drinking alcohol: Nearly half of all boating accidents involve alcohol. Studies show that passengers are 10 times more likely to fall overboard when they have consumed alcohol.

– File a float plan. Always let a family member or friend on shore know the who, what, when and where of your trip, and when you are expected back. Give them phone numbers for the local sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in the event you don’t return when expected.

– Maintain a sharp lookout. Stay alert for other boats, swimmers, skiers and objects in the water. This is especially true when operating in crowded waterways, at night and during conditions of restricted visibility.

– Carry a marine radio or cell phone. Be prepared to call for help in case you are involved in an accident, your boat becomes disabled or you otherwise need assistance. Program the phone numbers for the county sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in your cell phone. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, but be aware that there are often gaps in coverage on the water.

Sgt. Al Bavarskas of the Michigan DNR, the marine safety specialist for the Law Enforcement Division, emphasized the use of life jackets.

“In most of the drowning accidents in the United States, people have life jackets on board their boats, but they just aren’t wearing them,” Bavarskas said. “Life jackets must be Coast Guard-approved, must be in good and serviceable condition and properly fitted to the person wearing it.”

In Michigan, anyone 6 years of age or younger must wear a life jacket when on the open deck of any vessel. But wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) is recommended for everyone.

“Every study shows that using life jackets saves lives,” adds Lt. Andrew Turner, boating law administrator for the Michigan DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “Life jackets have been redesigned in recent years so that they come in styles that are comfortable and easy to wear. Having a life jacket on prevents the search for one during a boating emergency.”

In order to be an acceptable, Zellmer of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says, each PFD must meet these recommendations listed below.

– Be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

– Be in good condition with no tears, rips, broken straps or snaps. Use a squeeze test on kapok PFDs to check for punctures in the inner plastic liner.

– Be the right size for the intended wearer.

– Be readily accessible, which means it may not be stowed in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments or under other equipment.