Safety first on the water

With summer weather approaching, Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ conservation officers are reminding Michigan residents to practice safety when boating.

The DNR encourages Michigan 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 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,” said Lt. Andrew Turner, boating law administrator for the 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.”

Boating safety requirements in Michigan are as follows:

– Those born on or after July 1, 1996 (new in 2012, as a result of Public Act 0120), are required to have a boater’s safety certificate to operate a motorboat. Those younger than 16 years of age also require adult supervision.

– Persons younger than 14 years of age may not legally operate a personal water craft.

– Those 14 and 15 years of age may operate a personal water craft legally only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate and if he or she is accompanied on board by his or her parent or legal guardian or by a person at least 21 years of age who has been designated by the parent or legal guardian, or he or she is operating or riding the personal water craft at a distance of not more than 100 feet from his or her parent or guardian or from a person at least 21 years old who has been designated by the parent or guardian.

– Those at least 16 years of age and born after Dec. 31, 1978, may operate a personal water craft legally only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate.

– Those born on or before Dec. 31, 1978, may operate a personal water craft legally without restrictions.