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Boat safely during holiday weekend

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By The Staff

More boaters will be on Kentucky waters during the upcoming July 4th holiday weekend than at any other time of year. Families will head to the water to fish, tube, water ski and enjoy a long weekend away from work. Boats full of vacationing friends will navigate crowded waters to find the best spot to watch fireworks. In the midst of all this fun and festivity, it’s easy to forget that the Independence Day holiday is often the year’s busiest and most congested weekend on the water.

“The one thing that we notice about the July 4th weekend when we go back and look at the boating accident, injury and fatality data is that we seem to have more incidents during that weekend than either Memorial Day or Labor Day,” said Sgt. John Anderson, boating education coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

That statistic isn’t meant to scare boaters away. But it should convince anyone who steps into a boat to be extra careful during the busy holiday weekend. Crowded lakes and rivers demand careful navigation from boaters, particularly around crowded fireworks viewing areas.

“More people on the water makes for more congested waterways,” said Capt. Mike Fields, boating law administrator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “More congested waterways can make for more close calls and more incidents.”

Boat operators should drive slowly in crowded areas, and scan the water carefully for swimmers, tubers, skiers and personal watercraft operators.

“If I could only say two things to the boating public that I knew would make a difference, the first thing I’d say is wear your life preserver,” said Anderson. “Ninety percent of those who die on the water would have lived if they’d been wearing a life jacket. It’s the best insurance policy you can have.”

Life jackets are required for boaters under 12 years old when in the open part of a boat that is underway. Additionally, a life jacket must be readily available to each passenger in the boat.

“The second thing I’d tell the boating public is to take a boating education class,” Anderson added. “People who have completed a boater education class are 70 percent less likely to be involved in a serious boating accident.”

The classes are available free of charge throughout Kentucky, or they may be taken online for a fee. Boater education is required for youth ages 12-17 who are operating a boat with a motor of 10 horsepower or more. For complete information on boater education and to check the schedule of courses, visit Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov.

“If you’re going to attend fireworks displays in your boat, make sure your running lights are working,” added Fields. “Especially after dark, we encourage everyone to wear their life jackets. Should something happen to you, finding your life jacket in the dark would be nearly impossible.”

Kentucky conservation officers will be out in full force during the holiday weekend.

“Officers will be on the lookout for impaired or reckless boaters,” said Anderson. “We’ll be working with other state and local law enforcement agencies around the water, to stop impaired boaters who may try to make it to their vehicles and drive.”

Boating under the influence is a serious problem in Kentucky. About half of the boating fatalities in this state happen because of alcohol use, which is more than double the national average. It is against the law for boaters, whether operators or passengers, to consume alcohol while on the water.

“Our goal is to have everyone come and have a good time, and leave with good stories,” said Anderson. “We don’t want their stories to be stories of tragedy or heartache.”

For complete boating regulations, including laws regarding safety equipment such as life jackets, fire extinguishers and running lights, check the 2009 Kentucky Fishing & Boating Guide. The guide is available online at fw.ky.gov and wherever fishing licenses are sold.

Author Hayley Lynch is a writer for Kentucky Afield magazine.