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Stay Safe on the Water This Summer

Stay Safe on the Water This Summer

by Mary Beth TeSelle, Sponsored Content

As the weather warms up and we look to find refuge from the summer heat, many of us will head to the lakes and rivers that are abundant in our area. While the water can provide a fun and peaceful retreat, it can also be the scene of accident and injury if precautions aren’t taken.

There are an estimated four million active boaters across the state of California, making our beautiful lakes and rivers more crowded than ever. Officials say wearing a life vest, staying sober, and being educated about boating safety can go a long way toward keeping you and your friends and family safe.

Almost 800,000 recreational watercrafts are registered in California, and the rapidly rising numbers of unregistered paddlecraft bring the number of active boaters to over four million statewide.

According to the California State Parks, Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW), three of the most important steps we can take to stay safe while on the water are wearing a life vest, not consuming alcohol, and getting educated on boating safety.

The U.S. Coast Guard reports that approximately 75% of boating fatalities were caused by drowning and 84% of those who drowned were not wearing a life jacket.

Under California law, every child under 13 years of age on a “moving vessel of any length” must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket that is in good condition and appropriate for the size of the child.

A life jacket that fits properly will help keep your head above water. If it is too big, it will ride up around your face. If it is too small, it will not be able to keep your body afloat. Experts warn that adult-sized life jackets will not work for children.

To ensure your life jacket is the right size and fit, check the manufacturer’s label for the designated weight range. You can also test it by having the wearer hold their arms above their head and grasping the jacket’s arm openings and pulling up. If the jacket rides up around the chin or face, it is too big.

California law also requires everyone on a personal watercraft (popularly known as a “jet ski”) and anyone of any age being towed behind a boat to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

In addition, every boat must have enough life jackets on board for every person on board.

The DBW recommends that everyone on a boat wears a life jacket at all times regardless of their swimming abilities. They point out that you never know when an emergency will occur and once you are in the water, it is very difficult to find and put on a life jacket, while also staying afloat.

In addition to drowning, alcohol consumption is one of the biggest dangers associated with boating.

According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, almost 25% of fatal boating accidents involve alcohol in some way, whether on part of the operator or a passenger. In fact, alcohol is the leading factor in fatal recreational watercraft accidents.

In California, it is against the law to operate a boat or personal watercraft with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. Depending on your weight, you can reach that level after as few as two or three drinks in an hour or two.

The DBW points out that you can be arrested for boating under the influence even if your BAC is less than 0.08% if you are deemed to be unsafe.

If convicted of driving a boat under the influence, you could face up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000.

DBW officials say that alcohol consumption is a concern not just for operators of the boat but for passengers too. Drunken passengers are more prone to falling overboard, swimming near the propeller, and leaning over the side or standing up – which can cause small vessels to capsize.

Sun, wind, boat and wave action can also intensify the effects of alcohol. And alcohol greatly increases the risk of hypothermia – a danger in the water.

Another common factor in boating accidents is a lack of boating safety training. Placer County Sheriff’s Office says 77% of fatalities in 2020 occurred on boats in which the operator had not received any training.

The California Boater Card education program is designed to increase boating safety on California waterways. You can learn more about the program at the QR code at the left.

This summer, enjoy the many lakes and rivers our area has to offer… But take the precautions needed to ensure you and your friends and family make it back to shore safely.

Be a Smart Boater

The California State Parks Department, Division of Boating and Waterways, offers a course that meets the California Boater Card education requirement. It can be read online or downloaded to a home computer. This national and state approved course allows boaters to study at home at their own pace, and it covers state and federal boating laws, rules of the road, boat handling, required equipment, navigational aids, accident reporting and special topics.

Learn more at the QR code above.

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