BOATING SAFETY ENFORCEMENT STEPPED UP OVER JULY 4 HOLIDAY
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources will be out in force patrolling the state's waterways this July 4 holiday weekend, traditionally the busiest boating time of the year in South Carolina.
"Again this weekend, as we have throughout the summer, DNR boating safety officers will be focused in 'saturation' patrols on lakes, rivers, reservoirs and our coastal waters in an effort to reduce boating accidents, injuries and fatalities," according to Col. Alvin Taylor, deputy director for the DNR Law Enforcement Division in Columbia. "Our goal is to make the waterways a safer place for boaters and families by increasing our visibility and DNR presence on the water."
S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) law enforcement officers patrolling the state's waterways over the long July 4 holiday weekend will be on the lookout for dangerous boating behavior, such as negligent or reckless operation and boating under the influence; major causes of boating accidents, injuries and fatalities, Taylor said.
So far this year, seven people have died in boating accidents in South Carolina. There were a total of 13 boating deaths in 2004, 33 deaths in 2003, 14 in 2002, 18 in 2001 and 15 in 2000.
"We are working to reduce boating accidents injuries and fatalities by placing an increased emphasis on boating safety patrols, combined with a heightened boating safety public awareness initiative," Taylor said.
Last summer, DNR launched its new "Zippit" boating safety campaign. "Zippit" is a life-size lifejacket mascot that will be seen around the state on billboards and at public boat landings and special events. "Zippit" promotes the importance of wearing your life jacket and to always make safety a priority while boating and on the water. This weekend, at select areas around the state, the DNR (B-SAF) boating safety saturation team, will be handing out "I Got Caught Wearing My Life Jacket" t-shirts to children who are seen wearing their life jackets during routine boating safety inspections.
State and national statistics indicate that over 90 percent of all boating fatalities could be prevented with the proper use of life jackets.
Additionally, for boaters who would like to have a check of their safety equipment before they hit the water, DNR officers will be conducting boating safety inspections at some public boat landings over the holiday weekend. "These courtesy inspections are being offered to ensure that all boaters have the required safety equipment on-board their vessel before they launch their boat," Taylor said. "This is all about safety and averting a potentially dangerous situation before it becomes a problem." During these courtesy inspections, DNR officers will be available to talk with boaters and answer enforcement and safety questions.
Obeying boating laws and rules will keep most boaters safe and out of trouble:
State law requires boating safety training for anyone younger than 16 who wants to operate a boat or personal watercraft with an engine 15-horsepower or greater without being accompanied by an adult. For questions concerning this requirement or boater education courses contact, DNR's Boating Education offices at 1-800-277-4301, (803) 734-3995 in Columbia or (843) 953-9302 in Charleston.
Any person younger than 12 in a boat less than 16 feet long must wear a personal flotation device. Anyone on a personal watercraft, which includes Jet Skis, Sea-Doos, WaveRunners and others, must wear a Coast Guard-approved flotation device; they cannot be operated after sunset or before sunrise; and they must be equipped with self-circling or lanyard-type engine cutoffs. No vessel may operate in excess of idle speed within 50 feet of an anchored vessel, dock, pier or person in the water, or within 100 yards of the Atlantic Ocean coastline. No one may jump the wake of another vessel within 200 feet of the vessel creating the wake.
When towing a water skier or person on a floating device, a boat must have an observer onboard or the vessel must be equipped with wide-angled mirrors. A sound-producing device, such as a horn or whistle, is required on all boats. Fire extinguishers are required on most boats.
It is against the law, and extremely dangerous, to operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Play it safe and use a designated driver while boating, just like you would in an automobile. In South Carolina, individuals involved in an accident that causes a death or serious injury face an implied consent alcohol test and serious penalties with a maximum of 25 years imprisonment and up to a $25,000 fine. On the water, the effects of alcohol or drugs are magnified by the elements of sun, wind and wave action. Alcohol also impairs coordination of arm and leg movements, slows response to emergency situations and makes it difficult for boat operators to scan the horizon.
Boat operators are also reminded that wearable personal floatation devices (PFDs or life jackets) are required for each person onboard. On boats 16 feet and longer throwable devices, such as flotation cushions, are required in addition to wearable devices. Life jackets must properly fit each individual, whether child or adult, and be serviceable without tears, holes or other damage or wear that would decrease the effectiveness of the device.
Also, before going out on the water, DNR officers encourage boaters to file a float plan. It's as easy as telling someone where you're going and when you plan to return. That way, if you run into trouble, DNR and other authorities will know where to begin their search. In an emergency, minutes count. Play it safe and file a float plan.
To report boating violations such as reckless operation or an intoxicated boat operator, call the DNR toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-922-5431.
For a copy of South Carolina's Boating Regulations, to find out about local boating safety courses or to obtain a free float plan form contact the DNR Boating Safety Office at 1-800-277-4301; (843) 953-9302 in Charleston or (803) 734-3995 in Columbia, or visit the DNR Web site at http://www.dnr.state.sc.us/etc/boating.html
-Written by G. Michael Willis -