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Safe Boating Week aims to save lives

05/19/2017, 12:29am EDT

Michigan DNR urges receiving instruction before heading out on water

Boating safety includes proper instruction before going on the water, sober and attentive operation, the use of life jackets, knowledge of the navigation rules, and an awareness of the fire hazards. BOAT OWNERS ASSOCIATION OF THE U.S.

There is nothing better than a few 80 degree days in the middle of May to really get the boating season launched. By Memorial Day, most vessels will be in the water and on the move, so the timing of National Safe Boating Week hardly is coincidental.

It is observed Saturday through next Friday, and there will be a wide range of programs nationally — and in Michigan and Ohio — that all target safety on the water. When you are operating a craft with lots of power and no brakes, it is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of a thorough safety regimen.

“Michigan is made for boating,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, state boating law administrator with Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Michigan is consistently among the top three or four states in the nation in terms of the number of registered watercraft.

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“But being on the water carries responsibilities,” Wanless added. “Following the law and taking simple precautions will help ensure that your boating experience goes as planned. You have a responsibility to yourself, your passengers, and fellow boaters to be as safe as possible.”

The MDNR and a variety of other state agencies and citizen organizations encourage all boaters, regardless of age or experience level, to start their boating season on dry land by getting sound instruction. Proper operation, navigation, and safety will be the focus of the boating safety classes and workshops. Instruction also is available online. It is important to note 80 percent of all reported boating fatalities occur in accidents where the operator has not received boating safety education.

Experts also stress the use of life jackets in every situation that involves watercraft, since some 85 percent of the drownings resulting from boating accidents are because of people not wearing life jackets.

In Michigan, state law mandates that anyone under the age of 6 must wear a life jacket when they are on the open deck of any vessel. In Ohio, children younger than 10 on any vessel less than 18 feet in length are required to wear one, but in all cases wearing a personal flotation device is strongly recommended for boaters of all ages.

“Don’t just have your life jacket close by when you are boating — wear it,” said Mike Bailey, chief of Ohio Department of Natural Resources’s Division of Parks and Watercraft. “If an accident occurs and you suddenly end up overboard, a life jacket will keep your head above water, and it could save your life.”

The eighth annual “Ready, Set, Wear It!” Life Jacket World Record Day will be Saturday. The goal is to educate the public about the importance of wearing life jackets and safe boating. Locally, The Josh Project and ODNR will hold a life jacket event at St. Francis de Sales High on West Bancroft Street at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Since alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in boating mishaps that result in fatalities, it is critically important the boat operator avoid drinking alcohol. With our crowded summer waters, impaired operators at the controls of powerful boats can be a deadly combination.

Boaters with safety on board as their first mate are urged to file a float plan so someone else knows where you expect to go, and when you should return. It also is a good idea to give your safety contact person the phone numbers for the local emergency dispatch center and the closest U.S. Coast Guard station, in the event you do not return within a reasonable time frame.

When in operation, your attention should be on the waters surrounding your craft at all times, since swimmers, anglers, skiers, and personal watercraft are sometimes difficult to see in bright sunlight and glare, or when weather conditions restrict visibility, and in the low-light hours.

Communication is essential too, and a marine radio is a good investment since you frequently will encounter coverage gaps on larger lakes when attempting to use a cell phone. Emergency numbers should be programmed into these devices so in the event of a crisis, help can be quickly reached.

The nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is placing an additional emphasis on improving fire safety aboard recreational boats. Using a series of educational videos, the group illustrates how quickly a boat can be consumed by fire, and how precious little time boaters have to react in the event of a fire. With highly flammable fuel on board, plus a multitude of electrical connections that are subject to shorts or sparking, fire safety should not be overlooked by boaters

“We’ve outlined some simple steps all boaters can take to improve their own fire safety,” said Ted Sensenbrenner from BoatUS. “We want to help boaters make the decision to add more fire extinguishers than the bare minimum required, or to properly connect their VHF radio to the GPS so that the one-button mayday feature works when they really need it.”

Visit to view the fire safety videos and for more information on fire safety on your boat. The​boating website offers more information on boating safety and who is required to take a safety class in Michigan. Visit for information on Ohio’s boating laws, free safety inspections, and boating regulations.

More general information on safe boating is available at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center at

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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