Don’t miss the boat on safety

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, June 10, 2015

LAPLACE — As temperatures heat up, many people take to the water for some much needed heat relief. And while boating can be a fun family pastime, authorities warn there are also inherent dangers people should be aware of.

“We are blessed with some of the most beautiful waterways, and boating is very much a part of our lives,” St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre said. “I love the water too, but I would love to not have to hear about a tragedy or accident on the water. We’ve had tragedies in the past, and anything we can do to make the water safe, we’ll do.”

The U.S. Coast Guard recently released its 2014 Recreational Boating Statistics, revealing alcohol use was the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

It was listed as the leading factor in 21 percent of the deaths.

Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol use ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

“Boaters need to remember that alcohol and boating do not mix,” Tregre said. “Alcohol affects your balance, vision, judgment and coordination.”

Research has shown that alcohol combined with boating stressors — such as sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion — can impair a person much faster than alcohol consumed on land.

“Balance is one of the first things you lose when you consume alcohol, and when you combine this with the rocking of the boat, the chance of falling overboard increases,” Tregre said.

Lt. Chip Wale, who coordinates all search-and-rescue efforts for St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, said in the last week his department has responded to three boating accident calls.

He said people need to make sure they’re wearing a life vest at all times when on the water, adding the boat operator should always have to boat’s kill switch.

Coast Guard statistics revealed where the cause of death was known, 78 percent of fatal boating accident victims in 2014 drowned, and of those drowning victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Because boats don’t run as much during the winter, Wale said, boat owners need to make sure they complete a thorough inspection of their watercraft prior to taking it on the water.

Wale said the Sheriff’s Office would be actively conducting patrols on St. John Parish’s waterways this summer.

“If you fail the sobriety test, you will go to jail,” Wale said of boat operators.

“As the driver of the boat you’re responsible for the people on the boat and also their safety.”

Currently there are no boating open container laws on the books for Louisiana, Wale said, but added anyone arrested and charged with boating under the influence also loses drivers license privileges.

Additionally, Wale said, anyone who has had restrictions put on their drivers license because of a vehicular driving under the influence charge can not legally operate a boat.

Wale said the Blind River is “always a concern” for the Sheriff’s Office because of the number of boaters who populate the river each summer.

The density of boats, as well as the various experience level of those boat operators, means authorities saturate the area, Wale said.

“St. John Sheriff’s Office will be out there on the water, and we want to wish everyone a happy boating season,” he said, adding although it’s fairly rare, on occasion people will swim in the Mississippi River.

“It is extremely dangerous due to the traffic, current and debris coming down river,” Wale said.

To promote safe boating, Tregre offers boating enthusiasts safety tips on his website, which includes advising boaters to always file a float plan by telling people when they are leaving, where they are going and when they are returning.

Boaters should also check the weather forecast before they depart, Tregre suggests.