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FRANKFORT, Ky. – With the Fourth of July falling on a Friday this year, Kentucky’s lakes and rivers will be teeming with boaters enjoying the long holiday weekend.
Officials with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources want it to be a fun and safe experience for everyone.
“There’s nothing better than a day on the water,” said Zac Campbell, the department’s boating education coordinator. “It’s a great way to spend quality time with your family and friends. But a great day on the water can turn tragic in a matter of seconds.
“Always be prepared with your safety equipment. Have a float plan and make sure you’re watching out for everybody on board.”
The increased boat traffic on a holiday weekend makes for more congested waterways and leaves less room for error.
Boat operators are advised to pay close attention to navigational rules and to drive cautiously in crowded areas. Scan the water around you, looking for swimmers, tubers, skiers, personal watercraft operators and floating debris.
“Even if you do everything properly, you still have to watch out for the other guy,” Campbell said.
July was the leading month for boat accidents nationwide last year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics report.
Operator inattention was the top contributing factor in boating mishaps last year followed by improper lookout, operator inexperience and excessive speed, according to the North American Safe Boating Campaign. Alcohol use was the sixth highest contributing factor in boating accidents across the country last year.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife conservation officers will be out in full force over the holiday weekend to help ensure the safety of those on the water.
Conservation officers will be on the lookout for impaired boaters but also checking that boats are equipped with the required safety equipment.
“Especially life jackets, which are proven to be a vital tool in saving lives on the water,” said Maj. Shane Carrier, boating law administrator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Before leaving the ramp, or dock, check that you have the following:
* Registration numbers and decals properly displayed
* Registration receipt on board
* Wearable life jackets for each person on board (children under the age of 12 must wear a life jacket in the open part of a boat that is underway)
* Throwable flotation device
* Fire extinguisher
* Horn or whistle
* Lights (red, green and 360-degree white lights)
All boats must display the proper navigation lights when underway between sunset and sunrise. The 360-degree white light must be displayed at all times when anchored during this period. It is especially important around congested areas such as marinas or fireworks displays on the water.
“As the operator you’re responsible for everybody’s safety on board, including your own,” Campbell said. “After the fireworks are over, it might be a good idea to stay put a little while and let the boat traffic clear out.
“Sometimes it’s really difficult to see which direction boats are moving. Be careful. Be attentive. Don’t be a distracted operator. If you have enough people, get a spotter to help you out by being a lookout while you’re driving.”
Statistics show that people who have taken a boater education course are less likely to be involved in a boating accident, Campbell said.
In Kentucky, children ages 12-17 years old who operate a personal watercraft or boat with a 10-horsepower motor or greater must have a safe boating certificate.
Boater education courses are offered in person around the state at no charge and online for a fee. All in-person courses require online pre-registration. For more information, including course schedules, visit Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov.
Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is an avid angler with a passion for muskellunge and stream fishing. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.