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Safety First in Boating

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Published on: May. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

shelter, and never rely on a small boat to get you safely across any body of windroughened water, especially during fall, winter and spring.

Boat Defensively

Defensive boat operation helps you avoid collisions. Maintaining a safe distance from other boats gives you enough time to avoid them. Keep a sharp lookout in all directions. Other operators may make unexpected course changes that could put you on a collision course.

 Be especially alert when boating at night. It's difficult to see the shoreline, docks, hazards and other boats in the dark, and the mixture of shore lights and navigation lights on a busy lake can become confusing.

Add in the difficulties of rescue and it's easy to understand why boating accidents that occur at night tend to be much more serious than daylight accidents.

Always keep your lights in working order and check them before leaving your dock or trailer. The law requires a 360-degree white stern light and a red and green light on the bow. Spotlights are helpful for intermittently checking for hazards in the water or to signal another vessel if you need assistance, but Missouri law prohibits continuously displaying a spotlight at night.

Boater's Checklist

These items are required by law:

  • Boat registration
  • One wearable PFD for each passenger
  • One throwable PFD
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Sounding device

Given the dangers, you should slow way down at night. On Missouri's biggest reservoirs and the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the speed limit is 30 miles per hour from a half-hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise.

Missouri's two big rivers often have swift currents and dangerous water conditions—especially in spring. Navigation charts are helpful for staying in the main channel and avoiding the numerous submerged dikes.

Boaters also need to respect barges. These huge vessels often take up the majority of a channel and create large wakes that can capsize a small vessel. Don't cross in front of a barge. If you lose power, it can't stop in time to avoid you.

Alcohol and Water

About half of Missouri's boating injuries and fatalities involve alcohol. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, affects vision, coordination and judgment and slows down physical reaction time.

Studies show that exposure to heat or cold, glare, vibration, noise and motion increases the effects of alcohol. Studies also show that an alcohol-impaired boat operator is 10 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than a sober boat operator.

Passengers aren't immune from the dangers. Alcohol increases the likelihood of falls, missteps and risky behavior for everyone aboard. In fact, an American Medical Association study shows that passengers with high blood-alcohol levels are just as likely to die in a boating accident as intoxicated boat operators.

The Missouri State Water Patrol has a zero-tolerance policy for boating while intoxicated. The first conviction for boating while intoxicated is a class B misdemeanor, the second is a class A misdemeanor, and a third or subsequent conviction is a class D felony. If you plan on drinking alcohol while out on the water, be responsible and use a designated operator.

Last year in Missouri 321 boating accidents resulted in 174 injuries and 16 fatalities. Statistics show that eight out of 10 boating fatalities occur on boats where the operator had no boating safety education.

Missouri recently passed a law that requires people born after January 1, 1984, to have taken and passed an approved boating safety course before operating a boat on Missouri lakes.

The law went into effect January 1, 2005, and the course is available now. For further information, visit the Missouri State Water Patrol Website. Everyone who boats is encouraged to take the course and help make boating on our lakes and rivers safer.

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