SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This week leading up to Memorial Day weekend is National Safe Boating week. The West Virginia Natural Resources Police have stepped up patrols this week on the waters of West Virginia to engage boaters about safety on the water.
Captain Ed Goodson of the NRP said the biggest issue they deal with is life jackets on youngsters. Nothing will get the attention of law enforcement faster than a kid on a boat without a life jacket when the boat is moving. Any child under the age of 12 must wear a life jacket at all times when the boat is underway—which according to Goodson also means when it’s not anchored and only drifting. The other important aspect is it must be the proper fitting life jacket.
“The biggest issue we see on the water is a properly fitting life jacket. You have a young child and they will not be able to wear an adult PFD. Proper fitting is very important. If a mom or dad is holding a baby in the boat and they have an adult life jacket on them, that’s not going to work,” he explained.
Those over the age of 12 aren’t required to wear a life jacket, but Goodson noted they don’t work if you’re not wearing them. What is required is there is one on board for every person and they need to be readily accessible. The last part of the requirement is where a lot of problems happen.
“You can’t have them buried under all of the gas cans, oil cans, and canopies for your pontoon. You need to have those readily accessible so they can be grabbed in the event of a problem,” he said.
Those are safety regulations for a boat, the regulations are different for a personal water craft.
“Lots of rules on those jet skis, or whatever people want to call them. Everybody is required to wear a life jacket on those and you need to be tethered to the emergency cutoff switch in case you get thrown off. You also can’t operate them at night, because there’s no lights on a PWC,” Goodson said.
Fishermen have had their boats in the water for several months now, but this weekend will possibly be the first outing for many runabout watercraft owners. Goodson suggested taking a test drive before the weekend and after a thorough inspection of all systems.
“The biggest thing we’ll see is people going out there to run the boat and it stops. You need to check all of the oil, gas, and other fluids. Check the lower units. Check how you get the boat to and from the ramp. Make sure the bearings on the trailer are greased. Make sure all of the ropes are in good shape and make sure all of your lights are working. It’s the little things that can make a big difference once you’re out there on the water,” he said.
Finally, as usual Goodson stressed the need to appoint a “sober skipper” for the outing. At least one person of legal age to operate the boat, who has the proper certification, needs to stay out of the beer cooler for the day. Failure to make this decision can be costly.
“Boating under the influence is a tremendous problem. You’ve got to get those folks back to the dock safely. We’ll be out there looking for it, and it’s DUI on the water,” he said.