With the hot weather of June arriving, lakes statewide will, no doubt, be filled with people looking to kick off the summer boating season. Pleasure crafts, jet skis, fishermen and swimmers will co-exist for a long and, hopefully, safe summer.
Each year, countless numbers of people are involved in water-related accidents many of which, with a little knowledge and common sense, could have been avoided altogether.
While I'm no expert, I have been around boats and boating most of my adult life and can tell you, from experience, things seem to happen twice as fast on the water than on land.
Having recently retired from state park management after twenty years, I had the somber experience of working several drowning incidents at Lake Tenkiller.
When I began fishing bass tournaments decades ago, it was mandatory everyone in the boat must have a life vest on before the vessel was underway.
Additionally, the boat driver must have a working “kill switch” with a lanyard attached to his person or life vest should he become incapacitated or ejected from the boat.
In my opinion, a “ kill switch” is the unsung hero of a bass boat and other watercraft as well.
A number of years ago, I lost a close friend to a boating accident which still bothers me to this day. The incident involved a bass boat and a driver with a ton of experience but no life vest on and no kill switch hooked up.
Whether you own a boat nearly the size of the Titanic or the world's smallest jet ski, get to know your vessel and how to properly operate it before hitting the lake.
When wading, swimming, boating, or any other outdoor activity around water, you are urged to don a life vest.
A few years ago, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite advised parents to make sure youngsters wear a life vest when within ten feet of the water’s edge.
Fite has been with the OSRC for over 30 years.
“I’ve never worked a drowning incident where a life jacket was in use,” said Fite.
Another valuable tool made available to vessel owners is the boater's safety course. Atwww.boat-ed.com, you can take an online course for Oklahoma boaters, print out the handbook, take the online exam numerous times and pay the $34.95 only when you pass the course.
Who needs the card? You do if you are 12 to 15 years of age operating a boat or personal watercraft over 10 horsepower or a sail-powered vessel 16 feet or longer, being supervised by a competent adult.
Even if you are above the age range specified needing the course, take the course. I've encouraged my wife and others to do so for the knowledge that can be gained
One thing you’ll learn is what equipment to have when out on Oklahoma waters. For example, people on personal water crafts must wear a personal floatation device at all times. Children under 13 must wear one when on a vessel less than 26 feet in length.
Another must-have item is the certification of registration. Validation decals must be displayed. Also a type B-1 fire extinguisher, a horn, whistle or bell, a muffler, a ventilation system and navigation lights must be available for use on your vessel.
An ignition safety switch or “kill switch” is only required on personal watercraft, however, any type of vessel should have this device. Remember, it only helps you if you have the lanyard hooked to your person.
According to the Oklahoma section ofboat-ed.com, it is illegal to operate or be in actual physical control of any vessel while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other intoxicating substances. Alcohol and drugs cause impaired balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, impaired judgment and slower reaction times.
Oklahoma law establishes the following penalties. On a first conviction of operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the violator will receive a fine of up to $1,000. On a subsequent conviction of operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the violator will receive a fine of up to $2,500 and not less than $1,000.
Just remember this simple rule: Don't drink and boat.
I would urge all parents and grandparents to make sure they and the children occupying canoes and kayaks, as well as other watercraft, are wearing life vests.
Reach John Kilgore at firstname.lastname@example.org.