ST. MARYS — As boaters flock to Grand Lake St. Marys to enjoy the holiday weekend, a local watercraft officer says he hopes they follow several simple safety rules that could save a life.
"We are expecting this to be among the busiest boating weekends of the year," said Brett Trump, area supervisor for the Division of Watercraft. "We are encouraging boaters to follow basic safety tips — obey boating rules of the road, stay alert and sober and properly wear a life jacket."
Drinking and boating is something Trump said packs the same penalties as drinking and driving. In fact, Trump noted laws forbid alcohol consumption on the lake.
"We find alcohol on boats even though there is a park rule against that," Trump said. "You cannot consume or overly display it but of course we see it. When we do see it, we deal with it. It's a minor misdemeanor citation for it, and officers will handle the situation."
Trump said the lack of a brake on boats also poses risks to impaired boaters.
"I'm not saying it's any better in a vehicle but you just can't hit the brake pedal and stop a boat on a dime," Trump said. "They stay continuous in their wake."
Drinking, hot temperatures and boats also pose dehydration risks. Trump said people need to make sure they refrain from alcohol and drink plenty of water.
"These are things people might not consider," Trump said. "You add alcohol to that mix and it's truly a bad combination."
Trump also encouraged boaters to get their vessels inspected before hitting the water. Doing so could prevent mechanical failures.
"It's not required by law but a lot of people want us to do it," Trump said. "The reason is because things change after a boat has been sitting all year. Flares expire, mice or raccoons can get into a boat and chew holes in life jackets."
Inspectors also review the engine compartment of boats to make sure vessels function properly.
"Mice can nest in the blower system or engine," Trump said. "We check all the smaller items that not everyone thinks about."
Perhaps the single biggest piece of equipment to keep on a boat also could save a life.
"It's extremely important to wear life jackets," Trump said. "In most boating fatalities if a jacket was worn, the outcome would have been different. That's a bold statement. If they were wearing a jacket, they wouldn't have drowned."
To encourage life jackets, Trump noted boaters can choose from a slew of styles and colors that do not resemble the block, orange vests of years ago.
"The thing about life jackets today is that they come in a whole lot of different sizes, shapes and colors than what they did 10, 15 years ago," Trump said. "It's no longer the days of the big, orange horsecollars. Now they have inflatables and you put them on and you don't even know you are wearing it."