Boating season kicks off this weekend; how to be safe on the water

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- It's National Safe Boating Week and while things have just started warming up weather-wise, there have already been four fatal accidents this year.

With Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer and the start of the boating season, coming up Monday, patrols will in out in force on Arizona's lakes as people flock to the water for the long holiday weekend.

Officer Reuben Gonzales of the Arizona Game and Fish Department stopped by 3TV Thursday to chat with Scott Pasmore about boating safety.

He said there are four simple principles of boating safety.

  1. Wearing life jackets saves lives
  2. Boater education saves lives
  3. Safe boats save lives
  4. Sober boating saves lives

There are certain requirements boat owners must follow, including carrying life jackets.

"You'd better have one PFD -- one personal flotation device -- for everyone on board," Gonzales said.

There are several different kinds of PFDs so you have options. Whichever devices you choose, they must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition to the PFD, boaters also must have a throwable device like a seat cushion or a ring.

The National Safe Boating Council says everybody should wear a life jacket while on the water, but while legally the PFDs merely have to be available to adults, law requires kids 12 and younger to actually wear their life vests anytime the boat is underway.

Gonzales suggested life vests for pets, as well.

"If you take your pets out, you want to make sure that they're safe, as well," he said.

When it comes to fun in the sun, alcohol is often part of the celebration. But the DUI laws that apply to drivers, apply to boaters, as well.

"The same standards apply. There's zero tolerance for operating a boat under the influence," Gonzales said.

A blood alcohol content (BAC)of 0.08 percent is considered legally impaired. A lower BAC doesn't necessarily get you off the hook, though.

"You can also be arrested for 'impaired to the slightest degree,' meaning that if there's impairment and we see impairment, and you're between 0.04 and 0.08, you could be arrested for that," Gonzales explained.

According to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office more than 130 people were arrested in Maricopa County for OUI during Memorial Day weekend in 2011.

If you are charged with OUI, a class 1 misdemeanor, the penalties can include up to six months in jail, a mandatory alcohol-education class, and a fine of up to $2,100. A BAC of more than .15 means mandatory jail time -- at least 30 days -- and a higher fine. That's just for first offenses.

Just like there are DUI checkpoints on the roadways, there are OUI checkpoints on the water. And they're not just in place for Memorial Day weekend. Nearly 200 officers from more than a dozen agencies will be conducting OUI checkpoints on Arizona's lakes and waterways throughout the summer.

"We are serious about this," Gonzales said. "We want to make sure that everybody is safe."

To that end, AGFD offers an 8-hour boating education class. If you can't go in person, you can take the online version. For boating education information, call 623-236-7325.

There a few other things to remember while you're on the water.

In addition to wearing life jackets and making sure the boat operator is sober, you'll want to check your fire extinguisher before you set out to make sure it's up to date. Also make sure your paperwork is in order.

Remember, the traffic flow on the waterways is always counter-clockwise so if you approach a boat, stay to your right to avoid a collision.

Finally, pay attention to the buoys because they will specify where you can make wakes.