Authorities: Fun on the water needs to include focus on safety

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 23, 2010



LAPLACE – Getting out on the open water in a boat or other watercraft is an ideal way to beat the heat during the long summer months in the River Parishes, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wants to make sure marine enthusiasts of all ages are enjoying life on the water while also focusing on safety.

“The main thing we tell anyone who gets out on the water is to find a properly fitting life jacket and wear it on every trip out,” said Adam Einck, a media relations representative for Wildlife and Fisheries. “We work very hard to spread the word about the value of life jackets in any situation.”

Einck said the state reported 17 drowning fatalities on Louisiana waterways in 2009 and said 15 of those victims were not wearing a life jacket. The stats are on par with those of the U.S Coast Guard that indicate nine out of 10 drowning deaths are a result of not wearing a life jacket.

“It goes to show you how many of those unfortunate incidents can be prevented if more people were aware of the value of the vest,” Einck said.

Einck said Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement officials stress that before getting out on the water, boaters must have a deep knowledge of their surroundings — where they are going, specific hazards, water routes, what others are doing on the water — as well as their equipment.

“People get behind the wheel of a car nearly every day but probably don’t pilot a boat nearly as frequently,” Einck said. “The more a person knows about controlling their equipment, the safer they will be.”

A new law goes into effect on July 1 requiring all persons born on or before Jan. 1, 1984 to enroll in and complete a boating education course if they plan to operate a motorboat in excess of 10 horsepower. Einck said the new law adds four years to an existing state law that has been on the books since 2003.

“It has been proven in other states that it works well in reducing the number of accidents and fatalities over time,” Einck said. “Whether it is required or not, we encourage the course because it is a good opportunity to pick up new tips for veteran boaters.”

Einck said the class, which is offered across the state throughout the year, is a six- to eight-hour course that can usually be completed in a day. The course includes information on choosing a boat, classification, hulls, motors, legal requirements and equipment requirements, many navigation rules, navigation charts, trailer use, sailboats, and other related subjects. At the completion of the course, the student is issued a vessel operators certification card that offers proof of completion.

Einck said other tips to ensure boating safety include:

• Avoiding alcohol. Nearly half of all boating accidents involve alcohol. Einck said studies show that passengers also are 10 times more likely to fall overboard when they have been consuming alcohol.

• File a float plan. Always let a family member or friend on shore know the details of a trip.

Include phone numbers for the sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in the event you do not return when expected.

• 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.

Make sure a cell phone is fully charged, but be aware there often are gaps in cellular coverage on the water.