ST. MARYS — Boaters taking to local waterways are encouraged to keep safety on their minds, a local watercraft officer says.
As warm weather sets in, State Watercraft Officer Kevin Peters said boaters should inspect their vessels before hitting the water. Boaters also should have several safety items handy before setting out.
“When I do a vessel safety check, I look for an up-to-date registration on every boat,” Peters said. “I look for life jackets on every boat, a wearable one. Also, if the boat is 18 feet or smaller and a kid is under 10, they have to wear a life jacket at all times.”
Having a type 4, throwable flotation device — a seat cushion — does not qualify as having a life jacket. A throwable device is required on any boat that is larger than 16 feet in length.
“Some think they work as life jackets,” Peters said. “I see that one quite a bit.”
Fire extinguishers for gas-powered boats, distress signals, a whistle or horn and an anchor with sufficient line are all items Peters said boats should have on hand before hitting the water. However, he said it is common for items to be missing.
“The weekenders are the ones who miss it sometimes,” Peters said. “It’s about 50/50.”
One item that should not be missing from a boat is a life jacket.
“They are essential, especially this time of year,” Peters said. “When it’s warm out and people are wearing shorts and T-shirts that water is still only 60 degrees. People don’t realize when they fall in, it’s cold so you will have trouble swimming. And if the conditions are rough and wavy, you could be the best swimmer, the other conditions will affect that. If you have a life jacket, you will float.”
If thrown overboard, Peters said wearing a life jacket increases survival rates. A pair of boaters — who were not wearing life jackets — recently capsized on Indian Lake. One of the men died and the other made it to shore safely.
“If you look at the fatalities in the area, a lot could have been prevented if they wore life jackets,” Peters said.
“That’s across the state, too.”
Peters also stressed the importance of taking a boaters education course. It is requirement for anyone who was born after Jan. 1, 1982, in order to operate any vessel more than 10 horsepower.
“People who don’t do a lot of boating may not know that,” Peters said. “Or they may just have a jet ski and don’t know what they must have.”
Alcohol is also something Peters noted boaters should keep in mind. While he encouraged having a sober captain, Peters said alcohol should be kept off boats all together for safety reasons.
“If you get intoxicated and start stumbling, you could fall off the boat and being intoxicated will impact your swimming ability just like if it were cold water or wavy,” Peters said. “That’s why we push for a sober boat and not just the operator. Also, it’s illegal to drink or display alcohol on our state park waters.”
Another common mistake Peters said he observes is boaters not adhering to no wake zones.
“A lot don’t know what a no wake zone is and they go too fast,” Peters said.
“I recommend you know what the buoys look like and know what a no wake means. A no wake means that you have to go idling speed — as slow as your boat can go and still be moved.”
To help make sure boaters have safe vessels, the Division of Watercraft offers free inspections throughout the season. Officers will be at the west ramp of Grand Lake St. Marys from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. May 21 and 24 and at the east ramp from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. May 25.
For more information, call 419-738-6189.