Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Boat Safely This July 4th Weekend

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Think Safety First When Water TubingFrankfort, Ky. – July 4th is the busiest boating weekend of the year in Kentucky. Congested waters make for dangerous conditions, so boaters should be extra careful as they enjoy the holiday.

Be aware of all other boaters nearby, especially personal watercraft (manufactured under the trade names Jet Ski, Sea-Doo, WaveRunner and AquaTrax). The low profile of these small, fast boats makes them easily missed while operating a larger boat. Also keep a lookout for swimmers, inner tubers and skiers. Scan the water around you before turning on your engine and continue to scan while under power.

If you are a personal watercraft operator yourself, drive defensively. Never cut too close to other boats or jump another boat’s wake. Remember that boat navigation laws require personal watercraft operators to give way to larger boats, and personal watercraft operators are required to follow all of the same rules as larger boats. All personal watercraft operators must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

No matter what type of boat you operate, a day on the water can cause a condition known as boater’s fatigue. A combination of sun, wind, noise, vibration and the movement of the boat can make operators and passengers feel sleepy or groggy. Boater’s fatigue can cause bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and slower reaction time. If you begin to feel fatigued, allow more distance between your boat and other boats and make slower turns. Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water to help minimize dehydration and fatigue, and let someone else operate the boat if you are too tired to do so safely. Boater’s fatigue combined with alcohol can be a deadly mix, so please leave the alcohol ashore.

Think Safety First When Jet SkiingMany boaters operate their boats after dark during July 4th weekend. If you venture out after daylight hours, be extra cautious to avoid a collision with another boat. Make sure all navigation lights on your boat work. Kentucky law requires that all boats operating from sunset to sunrise display a steady white light visible 360 degrees at all times. Drive slowly and use extreme caution when navigating around other boats in fireworks viewing areas.

Be sure not to overload your boat with passengers this holiday weekend. Your boat was designed to carry a certain amount of weight, including equipment and passengers. Exceeding this limit can make your boat susceptible to being swamped with water in heavy July 4th boating traffic. You and your passengers should also know how to get back in the boat should someone fall overboard. Keeping a portable boarding ladder on hand is a good idea to ensure everyone can get back into the boat.

Make sure you have all required safety equipment – especially life jackets. You must have enough life jackets for everyone on board. Make sure you have child-sized life jackets available. All passengers under the age of 12 must wear their life jacket while in the open part of a boat that is underway.

Finally, don’t drink and boat. Kentucky law prohibits drinking on the water – whether you are a boat operator or passenger. Yet half of the state’s boating-related fatalities involve alcohol. Conservation officers with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will be out in full force, looking for impaired boaters and helping to keep everyone’s July 4th weekend safe.

For complete boating regulations, pick up a copy of the 2008 Kentucky Fishing & Boating Guide, available wherever fishing licenses are sold.