Lifestyle

Safety tips for Snohomish County boaters over Labor Day weekend

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, in partnership with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and Snohomish County Safe Kids, reminds boaters to play it safe on the water over the Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day weekend remains one of the three most popular boating weekends of the year, and is expected to bring people to celebrate the warm weather on Washington lakes and rivers.

"Holiday weekends create a need for increased safety awareness from all boaters," said Lt. Rodney Rochon, of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Marine Services Unit. "We encourage people to have fun, but to pay extra attention to others on the water, and as always, wear your life jackets, and know and follow the boating laws."

To stay safe on the water, Rochon advises boaters to know their waterways.

"Get familiar with your surroundings when first starting out and file a float plan," Rochon said. "Stumps, deadheads, and sand and gravel bars can appear out of nowhere with water depth changes."

Filing a float plan will help you map out where you're going, and will let others know when to expect you to return. Should you not return on time, and searchers are called to come find you, the float plan helps narrow down the search area and can expedite your rescue.

Each boat must also have a properly fitting life jacket for each person on board. Life jackets need to be in good shape and readily accessible, not under a hatch or in its packaging. All those 12 years and younger must wear a life jacket when in a boat less than 19 feet in length while the boat is in motion.

For non-motorized watercraft, the same rules apply, but it's also recommended that those operators wear a life jacket at all times while operating non-motorized vessels such as canoes, kayaks, sailboats, stand up paddle-boards and inflatable rafts. Those on personal watercraft such as jet skis must wear their life jackets at all times and follow the specific requirements for operation of those vessels.

For detailed information on life jackets and other requirements, download or view the Washington State Parks Adventures in Boating Handbook at www.boat-ed.com/washington/handbook.

It is illegal to ride on the bow, decks, gunwales or transoms of a motorboat when the boat is under way. Having all passengers seated in the boat while underway will prevent falls overboard and injuries.

All boaters operating boats more than 15 horsepower need to have a boater education card. As of this year, all boaters under the age of 40 need to carry a boater safety card if they operate a vessel of 15 horsepower or greater. If you haven't taken a boater safety course, consider doing so even if you aren't required to have the boater card. Visit www.boatered.org for more information.

Officers will also be looking for intoxicated boat operators on the water, and at the boat ramps when leaving the water. If arrested for boating under the influence, a violator can be fined $2,000 and may even face jail time. The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and state Parks Boating Program encourage boaters and floaters to leave the alcohol at home. It's safer for everybody sharing the waterways.

Marine Patrol Officers will be on the water to assist boaters and help keep the waterways safe. The top violations so far this summer involve not having life jackets for everyone onboard, not carrying a boater education card and not having current boat registration decals. Other violations involve reckless operation and alcohol.

"Boating is a lot of fun, and a long weekend makes it even better," Rochon said. "Just remember that safety is a personal responsibility. Always plan and pack ahead, so you're ready for whatever comes your way."

For information on boating laws in Washington, the boater education card requirement and how to register your boat, visit www.boat.wa.gov or call 360-902-8555.

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