Boating safety paramount during holiday weekends

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Foggy mornings and shorter days foreshadow the coming of fall. This inevitability triggered many to visit lakes, rivers and streams to get in the last weekend of the summer boating season during Labor Day.

The crowded conditions common on summer and fall holidays make observance of simple boating safety procedures vital to safe weekends for everyone.

The law requires each passenger in a vessel to have a personal floatation device, commonly called a life jacket, readily accessible.

“They are not readily accessible if they are shoved up under the front deck or console where you cannot get to them in an emergency,” said Maj. Shane Carrier, assistant director of law enforcement for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Heat is a major factor that deters boaters from wearing their personal floatation device.

“Inflatable personal floatation devices really help with heat,” Carrier said. “They are not as cumbersome, and [are] more conducive for wearing all of the time. They also do not restrict movement like other lifejackets.”

Each vessel must have a Type IV throwable personal floatation device such as a float cushion or ring readily accessible for use.

“We’ve had numerous incidents of passengers in boats falling overboard and drowning before they could be rescued this year,” Carrier said. “The biggest advice I can give to boat operators is to have a throwable personal floatation device readily accessible in case someone falls overboard. Also, everyone who has drowned this year from falling overboard did not wear a personal floatation device.”

Avoiding alcoholic drinks is one of the smartest safety decisions boaters can make.

“Drinking in public is against the law in Kentucky, and our waterways are public places,” Carrier said.

The combination of hours in the sun, heat and movement of the boat can induce a mild stupor called boater’s fatigue.

“Alcohol intensifies boaters’ fatigue,” Carrier said. “This condition can lead to poor decisions on the water.”

Carrier reminds owners of boats with inboard-outboard motors to run their venting devices to prevent fires.

“Turn on the blower and vent the engine compartment before starting the motor, especially after fueling the boat,” he said. “A spark of any kind ignites fuel vapors and causes an explosion that can burn the boat down to the water line.”

A boat must also have a working fire extinguisher on board at all times.

“Store the fire extinguisher away from the engine,” Carrier said. “On some boats with inboard-outboard motors, the fire extinguisher is mounted in the engine compartment. If you have a fire, you will burn yourself trying to get to it.”

All vessels over 16 feet in length must have a hand, mouth or power-operated signaling device, such as a loud whistle or boat horn. They must also have working red and green navigation lights in the bow of the vessel and a steady white light visible from 360 degrees in the stern. Boat operators must display these lights from sunset to sunrise in areas where other boats navigate, whether the boat is under power or anchored.

Some mistakenly believe you do not need working navigation lights if you only operate the boat during daylight hours. Mechanical failures, dead batteries or getting lost can prevent a boat from getting back to the dock or ramp before nightfall when you must display these lights. Therefore, they must be in working condition no matter when you operate the boat.

Carrier urges boaters to obey these simple safeguards and make the next weekend memorable for the right reasons. n