CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is coming into a four-day weekend and the 4th of July is typically one where folks will be enjoying themselves somewhere on the water in West Virginia. The state’s larger rivers and lakes will be a haven for boating activity from now all the way through the holiday. There will be an even bigger boat presence on the Kanawha River in Charleston as thousands turn out for the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta.
“The first rule is to be a sober skipper,” said Lt. Colonel Dave Trader of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section. “You definitely don’t want to mix alcohol or drugs in operating a motorboat or any other type of vessel.”
The West Virginia Natural Resources Police will be on patrol looking for possible safety violations during the holiday weekend on all of the state waters. Along with life jackets, the most important thing to have on board may be patience and common sense.
“You have commercial and recreational vessels there trying to operate in a fairly confined area. Stay our of the operating channels. Stay as close to the shore as you can to get a good anchor and if it’s at night make sure you keep your lights on,” he explained.
Barge traffic is routinely moving on the Kanawha River and many will be anchored up at Charleston’s riverfront to be part of the festivities and concerts. When there is congestion, Trader encouraged boat operators to slow down and be mindful of your wake.
“We do have areas on the Kanawha River which are “no wake zones” and those are posted, but the other part of that is you’re civilly responsible for any damage your wake creates. Even though there isn’t a no wake zone, if you rip on by and your wake causes damage to somebody’s dock or causes them to capsize, you could be criminally or civilly responsible,” he said.
Law enforcement will have a sharp eye out for overloaded boats and for children on vessels who are not outfitted with life jackets. West Virginia law requires anyone under the age of 13 to be wearing a life jacket anytime the boat is underway. That means if the boat is drifting on the river and not anchored, it’s still considered underway. All vessels are also required to have one properly fitting life jacket on board for each passenger which is readily accessible.
“I recommend everybody pick up a set of the boating laws at the DMV or any of our DNR offices or check them out online to know the boating safety rules and regulations,” said Trader.