“I know how to swim.”
“It’s just not cool.”
“Nothing will happen to me.”
These are just some of the reasons boaters give for not wearing a life jacket. Alabama Marine Police have two good reasons why you should wear a life jacket.
Alabama Marine Police Patrol Officer John Williams patrols Lewis Smith Lake and he says most boating fatalities are the result of capsizings or falls overboard when the victims were not wearing a life jacket.
So expect the unexpected and wear a life jacket.
“All children under eight years of age must wear a life jacket while on a boat, so why not wear your life jacket as an example to your children,” Williams said. “Besides it’s the law. Everyone on board a vessel must have a life jacket available to them. Make sure they fit properly and are in good condition.”
And Williams said anyone being towed on skis or a tube, riding a Jet Ski or Sea Doo, or boating within 800 feet below a dam must wear a life jacket.
“Boaters should always practice safe and courteous boating practices. Be aware of what is going on around you, know the laws and rules of the waterway, and be considerate of other boaters,” Williams said. “And above all, wear your life jacket. Make it your friend for life.”
The summer boating season officially begins this weekend, and officials are hoping boaters will pay closer attention to the “rules of the road” so everyone will have a safe summer again this year on Lewis Smith Lake.
According to Alabama Marine Police statistics collected over the past few years, Lewis Smith Lake is one of the safest lakes in Alabama with its peak boating season generally running from May through September.
“We have one of the most family-friendly lakes in the state. You can bring your family out here, have a good time and go home safely,” Williams said. “But, like anywhere else, we do have folks who’d rather bend rules instead of follow them, so that’s why we’re here. Not to make friends, but to keep everyone safe.”
Williams said whether people like to fish, water ski, tube, jet ski or just like to ride around in a boat summer days on the water can quickly end in disaster if people are not prepared.
“You should always keep a sharp lookout for weather changes, as storms can come up quickly, especially in the summer,” Williams said. “So be sure to check the weather forecast before you head out, and watch out for any temperature changes and shifts in wind patterns, as high winds on a lake can send you for a spin pretty quick.”
Williams said texting while boating is also becoming an issue on Lewis Smith Lake.
“Although there is usually plenty of room on the lake, just like driving on the road, you should not text while boating,” Williams said. “You need to keep your eyes on the water at all times, so any type of distraction, such as texting, could lead to an accident.”
Williams also wanted to remind boaters about the rules of boating at night. Be sure the red, green and white running lights on your boat are working properly and always on while the boat is underway. And all boats over 24 feet and using over 50 horsepower motor must have a kill switch.
“Kill switches are another issue we’re still having trouble with on Smith Lake,” Williams said. “We just can’t seem to get the larger boat owners to understand the importance of having that kill switch.”
Williams also wanted to remind everyone once again to be sure to have Coast Guard approved life preservers for everyone on the boat, a fire extinguisher, a Class C flotation device for throwing and your boating license and registration while boating this summer.
“We (the marine police) are out here working hard to keep everyone safe, and we want folks to have fun on water this boating season. But be responsible about it at the same time,” William said. “Have your boating licenses with you, don’t drink and drive and always be aware of what other boaters are doing around you.”
Williams is also urging parents to keep their children safe while on the water. One of his main concerns is small children operating personal watercraft.
“It’s against the law for children 14 and under to operate any type of personal watercraft without a licensed operator on board over the age of 21. I compare it to putting a child on a Harley and letting them go down the road without you,” Williams said. “Why would you let your 10-year-old get on a wave runner without you? I would hate for someone’s Memorial Day weekend to end in a terrible accident, especially one that could have been avoided if they had just been more responsible.”
Another important rule boaters need to remember while boating on Smith Lake is — just like on the highway — drinking and operating a boat is against the law. “All three counties that surround Smith Lake are dry, so folks need to be aware of that. But I think the more important thing to remember in many ways, is that drinking and operating a boat is a lot more dangerous than drinking and driving a car,” Williams said. “And here’s why — boaters tend to get a condition known as boater’s fatigue, especially toward the end of the day.” Williams said boater’s fatigue is caused by the glare of the sun, the action of the waves, the wind and general tiredness, you add alcohol to that mix and you have a very deadly combination
“I know a lot of folks don’t particularly like some of the rules when it comes to boating, but I’m just doing my job,” Williams said. “I don’t make the laws. I just enforce them.”
Williams said multiple agencies from both the state and federal level will be working Smith Lake this holiday weekend in an effort to keep everyone safe, including law enforcement officers from the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, Alabama Game and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama Marine Police and the U.S. Forest Service.