Officials push boating safety as weather warms, holiday approaches

MARQUETTE – In anticipation of the Memorial Day holiday and National Safe Boating Week beginning today, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reminding boaters to enjoy their trips with safety in mind.

Sgt. Al Bavarskas, the marine safety specialist for the DNR Law Enforcement Division, emphasized the use of life jackets. The DNR said more than 80 percent of drowning accidents in the United States are due to people not wearing their life jackets.

“In most of the drowning accidents in the United States, people have life jackets on board their boats, but they just aren’t wearing them,” Bavarskas said in a news release. “Life jackets must be Coast Guard-approved, must be in good and serviceable condition and properly fitted to the person wearing it.”

DNR conservation officers said that in Michigan, anyone 6 years of age or younger must wear a life jacket when on the open deck of any vessel. But wearing a personal flotation device is recommended for everyone.

“Every study shows that using life jackets saves lives,” said Lt. Andrew Turner, boating law administrator for the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “Life jackets have been redesigned in recent years so that they come in styles that are comfortable and easy to wear. Having a life jacket on prevents the search for one during a boating emergency.”

Officers also suggested making sure your boat is properly equipped and everything is in good working order. In addition to all legally required equipment, such as life jackets and fire extinguishers, always carry a first-aid kit, nautical charts and an anchor. Make sure your navigation lights are working properly, the DNR said.

Officers reminded boaters to avoid drinking alcohol. Nearly half of all boating accidents involve alcohol. Studies show that passengers are 10 times more likely to fall overboard when they have consumed alcohol, the DNR said.

A float plan should be filed, according to the DNR. Always let a family member or friend on shore know the who, what, when and where of your trip -and when you are expected back. Give them phone numbers for the local sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in the event you don’t return when expected, officers said.

While on the water, the DNR suggests maintaining a sharp lookout. Stay alert for other boats, swimmers, skiers and objects in the water. This is especially true when operating in crowded waterways, at night and during conditions of restricted visibility, officers said.

Officers also suggested carrying a marine radio or cell phone. Be prepared to call for help in case you are involved in an accident, your boat becomes disabled or you otherwise need assistance. Program the phone numbers for the county sheriff or U.S. Coast Guard in your cell phone. Officers said to make sure your cell phone is fully charged, but be aware that there are often gaps in coverage on the water.

For more information on safe boating, visit the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center at

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is