Water cops attuned to risky boater behavior

Contributed

This week typically is a high point of boat traffic for the year, and a time of greatest concern for related accident risks.

This is the peak of the recreational boating season -- more boats, more boaters and, alas, more risks.

The absolute bomb of boating occurs on the Fourth of July when that holiday falls on a weekend day. Independence Day was marked Thursday of this week, but this close-following Saturday and Sunday is sure to be packed with boat traffic with sun and fun revelers taking to the water in the stereotypical sizzling weather conditions during the just-after weekend.

The three major warm weather holidays -- Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day -- all bring bursts of recreational navigation. The present holiday stretch is the apex, however. There is no other time when more boats speckle area waterways, especially the giant, canal-linked Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

Sheer density of recreational boaters is one factor that can add risk to the waters now. Another factor is that those just-occasional boaters tend to save their outings on the lakes for these major holiday periods. This means that many boaters a little less familiar with what they're doing are out there now.

Law enforcement officers say another risk factor rears its head higher especially during the holiday period. That's the consumption of alcohol.

U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that alcohol is a contributing cause to a high percentage of fatal boating accidents. It's been proven: Chilled alcoholic beverages during a hot holiday outing in the boat can muddle your senses, cloud your decisions, and ultimately kill you, your crew and other people trying to enjoy the public waters.

While discouraging intoxicated boating, another point of stress for law enforcement and safety officials is the use of life jackets. A leading cause of boating fatalities is people ending up in the water and drowning.

USCG statistics, again, show regulators that in addition to most deaths being linked to drowning, most drowning victims expire because they weren't wearing life jackets. That is, if you wear an approved floatation device, your chance of surviving that boating trip today soar. Chances are you won't have an accident, but if you do, chances that you'll drown as a result are tremendously diminished.

Boaters are reminded that Kentucky law requires each occupant of a boat to have quick access to a USCG-approved life jacket. There must be one life jacket on board for each person.

Beyond that, each person under the age of 12 who is riding in the open portion of a boat that's underway must wear a life jacket.

In honesty, everybody out there should wear their life jacket when the vessel is moving. It's not legally required for those 12 and older, but a life jacket that is stowed in a compartment might not be accessible if some accident occurs suddenly.

A life jacket will not keep you on the surface if it is locked away somewhere and you're abruptly knocked overboard. And good swimmers may not be able to help themselves if they are unconscious, injured, etc.

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources officers, Coast Guard and other enforcement personnel typically are on increased patrol duties on the water during holiday periods. They're usually observing for unsafe boat operation or other signs of impairment.

Water cops, too, will have eyes open for overloaded boats, youngsters riding without their life jackets, and obvious cases of unregistered boats or vessels lacking proper safety gear.

Kentucky law requires anyone operating a boat of 10 horsepower or greater (including personal watercraft) to be at least 12 years old. Furthermore, a boat operator age 12-17 must have a certificate from completing a safe-boating course.

And, yes, enforcement officers are serious about boating safety. Last year, 13 recreational boaters died on Kentucky waters. That's why.

• Next Saturday, July 13, brings Cool Critters Day to the Land Between the Lakes' Woodlands Nature Station. Open to all 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the event is a specially geared to enlighten and entertain youngsters with live animal presentations and hands-on encounters, wildlife programs, crafts, activities and games based around all sorts of critters.

Guest presenters for this year's Cool Critters Day include the Natural History Educational Company of the Midsouth, Molly's Ark Mobile Petting Zoo and the Nashville Zoo. Visitors are invited to spend the day, bringing a picnic lunch or refueling at an on-site food vendor.

Admission for the Nature Station and all the programs of the special day is $5 for visitors ages 5 and older, while younger kids get in free. Contact the Nature Station for a detailed schedule by phoning 270-924-2299.

• The Illinois Department of Natural Resources this fall will make more than 20,600 acres of private land available to archery deer hunting through leases of the Illinois Recreational Access Program.

Archery hunters -- both residents and non-residents -- can apply for the IRAP lease program. Private land tracts open to IRAP participants include more than 200 sites in 30 counties. In southernmost Illinois, IRAP-leased sites are found in Pope and Johnson counties.

To participate, a hunter must apply by Aug. 23. Hunters born in 1980 or thereafter must have passed a hunter safety course. All IRAP lease hunters must have a valid hunting license.

IDNR officials say youth hunters are encouraged to apply for IRAP access, and priority will be given to youth applicants in the lottery when sites are assigned.

Hunters can apply for IRAP lease access by going online at the IDNR site, www.dnr.illinois.gov, and clicking on tabs for conservation, IRAP and archery deer hunting.

Successful application will be notified via mail about three weeks before the time of their assigned hunting period.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors new items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

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