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These Boating Safety Tips May Save a Life

by Lisa Diggs

In a state where you are never more than six miles from a body of water, nor more than eighty five miles from a Great Lake, it’s no wonder that we love our boats so much. In fact, Michigan is home to over 900,000 registered watercraft.

Water sports aren’t just about fun here, they are also a growing industry. There are approximately 1,404 boating businesses in the state, including nearly 30 boat builders, employing more than 16,600 people. Our maritime history is so interwoven into the fabric of the state that it is crucial that we ensure it remains a safe way to enjoy our bounty of lakes and rivers.

Unfortunately, according to the United States Coast Guard, there were 92 reported boating accidents in Michigan in 2013, resulting in 21 fatalities, 47 injuries, and $322,207 in property damage. Sadly 126 people have died in boating accidents in Michigan over the past five years.

Preparation is a big factor in preventing tragedies. Make sure your vessel is shipshape by scheduling a Vessel Safety Check (VSC). The process is free and only takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Examiners will meet you at a mutually-agreed upon time in your driveway, a boat launch, or a marina and go through the entire boat with a checklist to make sure everything's voyage-ready.

Boats that pass the examination are awarded a distinctive VSC Decal that alerts the Coast Guard, Harbor Patrol, and other law-enforcement agencies that your boat was found to be in full compliance with all Federal and State boating laws. Frequently, such agencies will not detain or board boats displaying a current-year decal that are otherwise operating safely.

Another important precaution is to ensure that the person piloting the vessel is properly trained. Statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard indicate that 80% of the boating fatalities in the country occurred when the boat operator had no known boating instruction. You can search for a marine safety class near you on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

The DNR also encourages Michigan residents and visitors to abide by these guidelines for a safer summer on the water:

  • Wear a life jacket - more than 80 percent of drowning accidents in the United States are due to people not wearing their life jackets. In Michigan, anyone less than 6 years of age must wear a life jacket when on the open deck of any vessel. But wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) is recommended for everyone.
  • 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 your navigation lights are working properly.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol - nearly half of all boating accidents involve alcohol. Studies show that passengers are 10 times more likely to fall overboard when they have consumed alcohol.
  • File a float plan. Always let a family member or friend on shore know the who, what, when and where of your trip - and when you are expected back. Give them phone numbers for the local sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in the event you don't return when expected.
  • Maintain a sharp lookout. Stay alert for other boats, swimmers, skiers and objects in the water. This is especially true when operating in crowded waterways, at night and during conditions of restricted visibility.
  • Carry a marine radio or cell phone. Be prepared to call for help in case you are involved in an accident, your boat becomes disabled or you otherwise need assistance. Program the phone numbers for the county sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in your cell phone. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, but be aware that there are often gaps in coverage on the water.

Just a few simple steps ahead of time can help protect your family and friends. Bon voyage!   


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