Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer boating season

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Memorial Day weekend traditionally opens the summer boating season and ends National Safe Boating Week. Both events are important to the West Virginia Natural Resources Police who are charged with patrolling the state’s waterways.

DNR Boating Safety Coordinator Captain Ed Goodson said the state’s boating safety laws require anybody born after December 31, 1986 to complete a boating safety course before they can operate a motor boat on West Virginia waters. He pointed out, that’s more than just a boat.

“We forget sometimes when we think ‘motor-boat’ that a personal watercraft or a jet-ski has a motor as well. It’s a requirement to have boater education to operate ANY motor boat,” said Goodson.

He suggested to avoid any complications on your first outing of the summer to take a trial run and give the boat or personal watercraft a thorough inspection mechanically after it has been in storage all winter. He suggested checking the lights, carburetor, batteries and other operating systems. He also suggested making sure the bearings on the trailer are properly greased, since being broken down on the side of the road on the way to the water is not how anyone wants to spend Memorial Day weekend.

State boating safety laws require all watercraft to be equipped with enough life jackets for everyone on board. However, Goodson noted having enough to go around isn’t enough.

“Those must be properly fitting as well. An adult cannot wear a child’s PFD and a child cannot wear an adult PFD,” he explained.

Boaters are also required to have a throwable life saving device on board like a life ring or an approved throwable cushion which can double as a floatation device. Plus, nothing draws the attention of a Natural Resources Police officer faster than a child on a moving boat who is not wearing a life jacket.

“Twelve and younger must have a PFD on and wear it while the boat is underway or the child is below deck in an enclosed compartment,” he said.

It’s worth noting the term “underway” can mean drifting down the river and doesn’t necessarily mean while the boat’s motor is engaged.

Goodson finally wanted to remind boaters to enjoy yourself, but make sure somebody remains in proper condition to drive. Elect somebody as the “sober skipper” at the start of the day. Goodson said while it’s an old term, the meaning never goes out of style. Somebody of age and training to operate the craft needs to be unimpaired when the day is over to make sure the boat and its occupants are safely returned to shore.

Natural Resources Police will patrol with an eye out for impaired boating and the penalties are just as severe as driving under the influence.

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