OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As West Michigan observes Memorial Day Monday, many boaters will be hitting the lake this weekend, possibly for the first time this season.
Boating can be fun, but it can also be dangerous. According to a report from the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 159 recreational boating crashes in Michigan in 2020, resulting in injuries to 74 people. Twenty-nine of those were fatal, with a total of 31 people dying.
In 2019, 22 people in Michigan died during recreational boating crashes. In 2018, 22 people died, in 2017, 20 died, and in 2016, 38 people died.
Sgt. Jon Knott, the supervisor of the marine division with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, works with his team to enforce the law and keep waterways safe in Ottawa County, including in the Holland and Grand Haven areas.
May is Water Safety Month and as people head out onto the water this summer, Knott has some tips on how to stay safe.
1. TAKE A BOATERS SAFETY COURSE
Before you head out on the water, you should take a boaters safety course to make sure your familiar with the laws.
“I would suggest that everyone take a border safety class,” Knott said.
You can take the course online through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources or through classes offered throughout the state. The sheriff’s office offers the class throughout the summer.
“We offer it in several locations throughout the summer,” Knott said. “We also … get into a lot of the local high schools and middle schools and offer it through their class curriculum.”
To find a class, go to Michigan.gov. For information on who has to take a boaters safety class to legally drive a personal watercraft or boat, click here.
2. KNOW THE RULES
Along with the laws you’ll learn about during boaters safety, many lakes have special ordinances.
“Be familiar with those laws, contact the local townships that the lake is in and make sure that there is no other existing laws,” Knott said.
He also said boaters should make sure to stay at least 100 feet from the shoreline if making a wake and to go counter-clockwise around the lake.
3. PICK THE RIGHT LIFE JACKET
Knott said it’s important to have the right number of life jackets on the boat. There needs to be at least one for each person.
“I would suggest that everybody on the boat wear a life jacket but Michigan law states that anyone that’s 6 years or younger has to be wearing a life jacket,” Knott said.
He said those children have to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved type one or type two life jacket. That information can be found right on the life jacket.
Knott said they often see boats on which the children aren’t wearing the appropriate life jackets.
“Just because it’s a life jacket doesn’t mean it’s the one for the children to wear,” Knott said. “Many times we’ll get out, we’ll stop a boater that has … children on the boat and they’ll be wearing what we call ‘puddle hopper’ life jackets. And they’re not designed to flip you upright and they’re not Coast Guard approved.”
Make sure the life jackets are in good condition.
“Check over all of your life jackets. Make sure they’re not torn or dry rotted,” Knott said.
4. CHECK YOUR BOAT
Before you get out on the water, check to make sure your boat is ready to go.
“Make sure everything’s in proper working order. Look over your boat to make sure that everything is a sound and sea-worthy, make sure there’s no cracks in the hull, cracks in your transom, make sure your engine is running properly,” he said.
Other things to check over is making sure the flares are not expired and anchor lines are in good condition.
“Make sure everything’s safe on your boat,” Knott said.
5. DRIVE SAFELY, PAY ATTENTION
Knott said his team sometimes sees people “driving recklessly or carelessly, especially on your personal watercraft.”
He said sometimes people will do figure eights or tricks on a personal watercraft, which can be dangerous.
Other times, boaters aren’t paying attention.
“Make sure you have a sharp lookout. Boats don’t have brakes,” he said. “Have enough room ahead of you to just slow down and stop. So make sure you’re going the appropriate speeds on the waterways.”
6. SWIMMERS: STAY IN DESIGNATED AREA
Knott said it’s important for swimmers to stay in a designated swim area. It’s dangerous to get too close to boats.
“You’re not very visible in the water. Make sure people know where you are, make sure they can see you. That’s why it’s important to stay in those designated swim areas,” Knott said. “They’re usually marked off very well, especially at our state parks.”