Boaters should focus on safety this holiday weekend

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July 9th, 2008

Boaters should focus on safety this holiday weekend

The scorching hot weather and high gas prices won’t keep boaters away from the water this July 4 weekend. Arizona’s lakes and rivers will be congested, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department would like watercraft owners to take boating safety precautions while on the water.

An educated boater is a safe boater. A boating education class will inform you about many important topics, but unless you take a class online in the next day or so, the possibilities of knowing what you need to before launching your boat this weekend are slim. Forgotten areas of boating safety can easily become the cause of a tragedy. At the very least, please follow these important tips when heading out on the water:

1. Wear your life jacket (Personal Flotation Device or PFD). The thought of wearing a life jacket is often discouraging during Arizona’s hottest months. The old styles consist of bulky, uncomfortable material worn around the neck. But technology has brought water enthusiasts new and better options now. Retailers provide sporty, trendy inflatable and fanny-pack-style life jackets that are cooler, more manageable and automatically or manually inflate.

“Now that there are new and improved inflatable life jackets, adults should wear one for unexpected incidents on the water,” said Kevin Bergersen, Arizona Boating Law Administrator. “But, you have to be 16 years old to wear an inflatable life jacket, and all children 12 years old and younger must wear a Type I, II or III U.S. Coast Guard- approved life jacket in the state of Arizona that is properly sized, fitted and worn to the manufacturer’s design specifications.” In addition, each person being towed behind a vessel on water skis and each person on a personal watercraft (PWC) are required to wear a life jacket.

2. Boat sober. You don’t have to drink alcohol or consume drugs to have a good time on the water. But if you do, you need to know that impairment to the slightest degree is illegal. In other words, operating a boat while intoxicated is as illegal as driving a car drunk. And drugs and alcohol don’t just impact the boat operator; passengers who have been drinking alcohol, for example, are 10 times more likely to fall overboard. And if they aren’t wearing a life jacket, they possibly face drowning. The legal limit for blood alcohol is .08, and violations are a class one misdemeanor in both cases. And impairment can escalate in hot weather.

“Alcohol contributes to approximately one-third of all fatal boating accidents nationwide,” said Bergersen. “It is important to designate a sober operator.”

3. Be aware of the danger of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisoning is known as the silent killer. It is an odorless, tasteless and toxic gas that disperses freely through the air and travels readily throughout a boat. Teak surfing, platform dragging, and water-skiing within 20 feet of a moving watercraft can be fatal. Tying or staging boats side by side with the motor running, a common practice at ‘party’ coves across the state, can produce deadly amounts of carbon monoxide poison.

“Boaters should stay away from exhaust ports because carbon monoxide builds up in areas near exhaust vents,” Bergersen added. He also advised that swimming in areas where carbon monoxide may accumulate, such as the cavity between the swim platform and the stern of the boat, can be fatal.

4. Safe boats save lives. Get a free Vessel Safety Check. “Boats that are properly equipped, in good operating condition, and safe from hazards are less likely to be involved in accidents and fatalities,” says Boating Education Program Manager Ed Huntsman. While the law doesn’t require certain items or supplies such as an anchor, visual distress signals or other safety equipment on inland lakes, federal requirements on the Colorado River are more stringent and demanding. The Arizona Game and Fish Department or local law enforcement officers would be happy to check your boat for you. Or, contact representatives of the Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron to request a free Vessel Safety Check by visiting and clicking on “I WANT A VSC.” Huntsman was quick to add, “Learn what you need to have to make sure your boat is always seaworthy and ready to go.”

The Arizona Game and Fish Department wants you to boat safe, boat smart, and boat sober this holiday weekend. To take a boating education class online, please visit or call (623) 236-7525 to attend one of the classes offered statewide.

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