DNR advice for safer boating

With the Memorial Day holiday weekend a little more than a week away, boaters will be out in force. Many already have taken to the waterway to enjoy the recent spring weather.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and neighboring northern Wisconsin are blessed with many local lakes and rivers that beckon boaters. Whether for pleasure, fishing or recreation, it’s time to get that watercraft in the water.

Which means it’s also a good time to remind people how to make sure those outings remain a relaxing or thrilling ride and not a potential tragedy.

Saturday marks the start of National Safe Boating Week. With that in mind, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers these tips for safer boating:

— Wear a life jacket. More than 80 percent of drownings from boating accidents in the U.S. are due to people not wearing their life jackets. In Michigan, anyone younger than 6 must wear a life jacket when on the open deck of any vessel, but wearing a personal flotation device is recommended for all.

— Avoid drinking alcohol. Nationally, alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents where the primary cause was known. Studies show that passengers are 10 times more likely to fall overboard when they have consumed alcohol.

— Make sure the boat is properly equipped and 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 navigation lights are working properly.

— File a float plan. Always let a family member or friend on shore know the details of your trip. Let them know when you are expected to be back. Give them phone numbers for the local emergency dispatch center or U.S. Coast Guard in the event you don’t return when expected.

— Stay alert for other boats, swimmers, skiers and objects in the water. This is especially true when operating in crowded waterways, at night and when visibility is restricted.

— Carry a cell phone or marine radio. Be prepared to call for help in case you are involved in or witness an accident, your boat or another becomes disabled or you otherwise need assistance. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged but be aware that there are often gaps in coverage on the water.

The DNR also recommends a boating safety course for anyone who plans to use a boat or personal watercraft. Classes are offered at locations around the state and online, making it convenient and affordable.

Keep in mind that in Michigan those born on or after July 1, 1996, can operate a boat or most types of personal watercraft legally only if they have been issued a boater education safety certificate.

For more information on boating safety, including who is required to take a boating safety class, go to www.michigan.gov/boating.

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