Safe boating week underway: Time to check equipment, make sure you have your PFDs

BY: CARISSA HEBERT

Managing Editor

(Editor’s Note: Information from this story was taken from a variety of sources including LDWF’s website and pamphlets.)

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) enforcement agents patrol the waterways throughout the year making sure everyone is abiding by boating safety rules, and then, agents use Safe Boating Week (May 17-23) to encourage boaters to be safe, responsible and knowledgeable while on the water.

On a recent ride-along, agents discovered one boater who did not have the proper PFDs (personal flotation devices). Sgt. Scott Fontenot explained life jackets, also known as PFDs by agents, are the number one safety equipment agents see boaters without. Either there are not enough life jackets on board the boat or they are not serviceable. He said it is a good idea for boaters to inspect life jackets and other safety equipment. “Life jackets aboard the boat should be inspected on a regular basis.” Fontenot said life jackets can be unserviceable in a number of ways, such as being torn. Of course, boaters should wear their life jackets at least while they are underway, but all persons under 13-years-of-age must wear a life jacket while the boat is underway. LDWF reminds boaters, accidents occur so quickly, there will not be enough time to put life jackets on if an emergency situation occurs.

On this particular ride-along, agents came across several boaters who took several minutes to locate their life jackets. Boaters should remember to have their PFDs readily accessible. “An emergency can occur at any time while out on the waterways,” Sgt. Fontenot said. “We come across numerous boaters who have their PFDs locked up in dry storage or in an area that takes them several minutes to locate. In an emergency, time is of the essence; it could mean the difference between life or death.”

Safe Boating Week is a time for all boaters to inspect their vessels to ensure all required safety equipment is on board and that vessels are in good working condition. Each boater stopped by enforcement agents were asked to show several items including their fishing licenses, a fire extinguisher (a Type B minimum), a throw-able, life jackets for each person in the boat and whether or not they had fish on board. Fontenot said vessel operators are advised to review Louisiana boating laws and anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988, is reminded to complete a boating education course before operating a vessel with a 10 horsepower or greater motor. Additionally, Louisiana law requires anyone operating a personal watercraft (Jetski, Seadoo, etc.) to be at least 16 years of age and to have completed a boating education course.

On this ride, Lt. Jesse Savoie pointed out wake zones at Chicot State Park and several boaters who were approaching or leaving these areas above idle speed. Sgt. Fontenot said, boaters should remember “no wake” zones are established at all public docks, and unless specifically marked, boaters should remember the law states a “no wake” zone exists within 300 feet of a public boat launch and/or public docking facility adjacent to a public boat launch.

“I tell people they are responsible for their wake. If your wake caused any damage to another vessel, whether it swamped it or banged it up against a fixed structure, you will be held responsible,” he said. “Agents will be strictly enforcing no wake zones throughout the parish.”

On the next boat check, Senior Agent Steve Vidrine discovered the boater did not have the proper documentation. He discussed the proper way of transferring boat titles.

Sgt. Fontenot said, “Current registration number must be on all applications for transfer of ownership. In addition to the application, proof of ownership with a notarized bill of sale with a raised seal signed by the prior owner or the prior owner’s Louisiana Boat Registration Certificate with the reassignment of ownership on the reverse side completed and signed by the previous owner. Specific instructions for new applications, transfers, duplicate certificate, duplicate decal with certificate, renewal and reinstatement are on the back of every State of Louisiana boat registration application. You can renew your boat registration at LDWF’s website, www.wlf.louisiana.gov.

As Safe Boating Week arrives, enforcement agents across the state will be highlighting safe boating activities. LDWF and the agents’ association will also bring awareness to this campaign once again through their t-shirt program. Agents hand out free t-shirts to kids, who are caught wearing their life jackets, when agents make random safety inspections on the water. The t-shirts are sponsored by businesses across the state are inscribed with the slogan, “I Got Caught Wearing My Life Jacket.”

Another safety measure Sgt. Fontenot reminds boaters of is to “make sure running lights are operable if you utilize your boat between sunset and sunrise. Remember as the summer arrives, LDWF Enforcement Division agents will be on the water to verify boater compliance with all boating regulations and to help make recreational boating in Louisiana a safe and enjoyable outdoor activity. So always make sure all of your necessary boating equipment is in working order. (For more information, see LDWF’s fishing pamphlet, pages 41 and 42.)

Safety is a big issue and residents should know the rules of the water way. (See the chart in gray here.) “In 2007, 30 recreational boaters lost their lives in Louisiana,” said LDWF Secretary Robert Barham. “National boating data indicates nearly 80 percent of all boating accident fatalities could have been prevented if the victims had been wearing a life jacket.”

Sgt. Fontenot pointed out some 2006 stats that indicate there were 120 injuries from 119 boating accidents in Louisiana and 24 fatalities. He said one fatality is too many. There were 16 drownings recorded and several types of accidents reported in this state, including 11 capsizings, 32 collisions with a fixed object, seven collisions with floating objects, 27 collisions with another vessel, 15 falls overboard, one fire explosion, one flooding, one grounding, eight sinkings, four skier mishaps, three people struck by the motor and/or propeller and three submerged objects struck.

LDWF agents encourage boaters to enjoy the waterways, but do it in a safe manner. For more information on state boating laws or Boating Education courses, go to LDWF’s website at www.wlf.louisiana.gov.

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