Safety First in Boating

Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and boats are shucking their covers all over Missouri. Warm days in April and May bring fishermen and boaters to the state's waterways in droves. Before launching your boat for the first time this spring, there are a few things to keep in mind to make your boating experience safe and fun.

As early season boating regulars know, the water is still cold, even on warm days. Most boating fatalities occur from capsizing and falling overboard. Cold water decreases the amount of time a person can swim or tread water, regardless of training or swimming ability.

Best Boating Law

One of the best Missouri laws is the one that requires each vessel to have one appropriately sized, U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device for each passenger on board. However, PFDs are useless if they are not readily accessible.

Nine out of ten drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. That's why authorities recommend that boaters wear a life jacket at all times. If traditional life jackets are too bulky, hot or uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, consider trying an inflatable, U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD. Some inflatable PFDs resemble suspenders or fanny packs. A CO2 cartridge inside inflates them. Pulling a cord activates some. Others inflate automatically when a sensor comes into contact with water.

These small, lightweight PFDs are more expensive than regular life jackets, but most users agree that the convenience is well worth the extra cost. All inflatable PFDs are approved only if they are worn.

Children under seven years old are required by law to wear a PFD while aboard any vessel, unless they are in a totally enclosed cabin, such as on a houseboat. Before heading out, make sure the life jacket fits the child well, so he or she won't slip out of it after falling into the water.

Another required piece of boating safety equipment on every vessel 16 feet or longer is a throwable personal flotation device, such as a seat cushion or a ring buoy. Throwing a buoy to someone in danger of drowning keeps would-be rescuers out of the water, where they might themselves drown.

Vessels 16 feet and longer also must be equipped with a sounding device. If your boat doesn't have a horn, a simple solution is a plastic or metal whistle. You can attach it to your boat keys so you'll always have it when