US Coast Guard gives boater safety tips ahead of Memorial Day

Coast Guard

HAMPTON ROADS, Va (WAVY) – Memorial Day is fast approaching, and while you can’t have large gatherings because of the coronavirus, you can go out on the water.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Virginia Beach could reopen Friday.

Being out on the boat with family can be fun and great memories can be made, but boaters also want to make sure they stay safe and aware.

There are a lot of safety precautions the U.S. Coast Guard has in place to do just that.

An informed boater is a safe boater. That’s the message the Coast Guard is sending just ahead of the busy boating season.

In order to keep boaters and their families safe, there are several things they need to check before heading underway

“One of the biggest causes of people dying on the water is drowning, and most of the time it’s because they don’t have on their life jacket,” said Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Butierries.

But first, they recommend boaters make sure the jacket fits.

“Kids have grown since last boating season, so when you put the life jacket on the first time, make sure it’s fitting properly.  A great way to check is the fit test. When they buckle it on and zip it, you can pull it up from the back. If it slides to their neck, then you know it’s not properly fitting,” Butierries said.

Also before going out, make sure there’s a radio on the vessel. A cell phone is not always reliable on the water.

“VHF Channel 16 — which is the distress frequency — it is monitored by the Coast Guard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all over the state of Virginia, not just here in Hampton Roads,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Amanda Lewis.

“Weather or hazard to navigation situations, obstructions in the water, things like that — all pertinent information that could apply to where you’re boating — and the more you know the safer you will be,” she added.

Also very important: For the adults operating the boat, when it comes to drinking alcohol, the same rules for driving a car apply.

“There are legal limits to operating a vehicle .08 [blood alcohol level] just like operating a vehicle. .08 is the legal limit but impairment happens at every level. I could have one drink be impaired and be on the water, and stuff can happen in a split-second, so if you’re impaired, your judgment is going to be delayed,” he said.

Of course, boaters can only control those in their own vessel, but officials say it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the water safe for others, too.

“It is every mariner’s responsibility to avoid an accident. So even someone else [who] isn’t following the proper rules, you as a boat operator have the responsibility to save yourself and your vessel,” he said.

If there’s ever danger, or boaters need help, the Coast Guard will be available.

“We are underway every day at any time of the day at stations all over the state of Virginia: Little Creek, Portsmouth, Cape Charles, as well as other stations. If you need Coast Guard assistance and are able to, by all means, flag us down,” he said.

For any questions about where boaters should be on the water, or a refresher on the rules while out, there is an app for that. Just search for the Coast Guard in the IOS or Android app store.

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