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Simply safe boating

By now, local families have probably already hit area lake, pond, or river for some good ole-fashioned fun.

Although boating can be a great way to spend the day, an enjoyable moment could lead to serious injuries, or even death, if the rules aren’t followed closely.

The first step is to make sure the person who will navigate you on your trip has obtained Alabama boater safety certification and has a state-issued vessel license.

Even though children can obtain both these requirements at the age of 12, they must be supervised on board by a person who is at least 21 years old, has valid proof of his/her certification and is able to take immediate control of the vessel if need be.

At the age of 14, young adults may operate a vessel legally after obtaining the required documents.

Before taking off on your afternoon on the seas, you should create a float plan, make sure all controls are operating properly, check for fuel leaks, oil leaks, hose connections, and be sure the fire extinguisher is ready for action.

Boaters should also ensure there are a proper number of life jackets on board, and that the ignition and stop buttons work properly.

Although everyone should know to wear a life jacket before stepping foot on a boat, the park rangers who work for the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Lakes can’t repeat themselves enough.

“Always wear a life jacket and the kids need to learn how to swim,” park ranger Harvey Hawkins said. “Children under 8 are required by state law to wear life jackets.”

However, just wearing a life vest isn’t enough, according to park ranger Brandon Smith, “if it doesn’t fit, it won’t work.”

“Pay attention to life jacket sizes because all of them tell how much weight they could handle,” Smith said. “So when you are wearing a life jacket, make sure it fits.”

The next step to being safe is to always hit the water with a buddy. That way, if the unexpected does happen, there is someone to help or call for help.

“If someone does go overboard, definitely don’t jump in after them because they are panicking and they will drown you too,” Hawkins said.

“If someone’s overboard, remember ‘reach, throw, don’t go,” Smith said. “Try to reach them first with a paddle, fishing pole, or branch. If you can’t reach them with that, throw them a rope or something, anything, that floats. Make sure it’s something that will hold the person up long enough until you go get help. But never, jump in to save them unless you are a licensed lifeguard.”

To prevent falling overboard, do not sit on the gunwale, bow, seat backs or any other area not designed for seating, don’t sit on pedestal seat when going faster than idle speed, do not stand up, or lean, out from the vessel, and do not move around unnecessarily when the vessel is underway.

Whenever you are going out on the water, be sure to let someone know where you will be and your expected return time, Hawkins said, that way your family will know when to expect you back.

To prevent capsizing, keep your loads balanced, make turns at controlled speeds, anchor to the bow and never to the stern, and never boat in bad weather.

When it comes to boating, both rangers strongly suggest checking the weather before hitting the waves as well.

“If there is any possibility of thunderstorms, get off the water,” Hawkins said. “You don’t want to be in a boat during a lightening storm.”

If your boat should happen to capsize, make reloading attempts, or try to get as much of your body out of the water as possible. If you boat sinks, try not to panic, look for floating items to hang on to, and, if the water is cold – float, don’t tread.

When it comes to waterskiing, first remember that it is illegal in the state of Alabama to tow people on waterskis between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise. It is also illegal to tow a person, or separate boat, in a manner that could cause a collision with another person, or object.

As always, be sure the skier wears his/her life jacket and be sure there is someone on the boat except the driver, to watch them. If possible, learn the skier hand signals, they make it easier for the observer to know when something’s wrong.

Always be alert to your surroundings when boating and be careful not to let stumps, poles or any other submerged items sneak up on you. Also keep a look out for dangerous animals and plants.

And as always, never boat with anyone who as may be under the influence of alcohol.

As Smith demonstrated at a library presentation when he allowed children to wear “drunk goggles,” alcohol can not only impair you vision, but it can also delay reactions.

“You never want to be in a boat with someone who’s been drinking,” he said.

In general, Hawkins suggests keeping a cellular phone on the boat at all times to call 911 in case of emergency, because you never know when something could go wrong.

For more information on boating safety, visit http://boat-ed.com/al/handbook. For additional information on fishing or boat launch locations in the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Lakes, please call (334) 289-3540.

Information from http://boat-ed.com/al/handbook and www.sam.usace.army.mil/op/rec/war-tom/boat.htm was used in this report.