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Officials stressing water safety

Summertime is a busy time of year for boaters who enjoy soaking up the sun and having a good time on the water.

     While boating is a favorite activity of many, it’s important to remain safe while doing so.

     Major Jerry Carter with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said wearing a life vest could be a lifesaver.

     “Make sure all boaters have adequate life vests,” he said. “Any child 12 years old and younger must have a life vest on at all time when the boat is in the water in accordance with state law. All life vests must be U.S. Coast Guard approved with the Coast Guard label stamped on them. Make sure any person wearing a life vest is wearing one that is size appropriate for that age.”

     According to the Coast Guard’s website, in 2011, 70 percent of all fatal boating accidents resulted from victims drowning, and of those, 84 percent were not reported as wearing a life jacket. Drowning was the cause of death for 533 people in the year, and in 415 cases, those who drowned were not wearing life vests.

     “Those boating who don’t know how to swim or are not expert swimmers should use a life jacket,” Carter said. “They save lives. At our department we take safety very seriously. I say live to swim another day if you’re not a professional swimmer. You don’t know what’s underneath the water.”

      Carter also recommended boaters check equipment to make sure it’s in proper working order after being in storage over the winter.

     Carter advised boaters to refrain from using alcohol while on the water.

     “If caught, boaters over the .08 blood alcohol level will be charged with boating under the influence, or BUI,” he said. “That results in a fine. The fourth conviction is considered a felony offense, which could land you in jail in the state penitentiary.”

     The Coast Guard’s report said alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents as it was ciited in 16 percent of deaths. Alcohol use was reported as being the sixth-most known primary contribution factor for accidents in the year with 296 accidents and 125 fatalities.

     Falling overboard resulted in 205 deaths and 157 injuries in 2011.

     Many young people jump off of bridges and into rivers and lakes during their summer breaks from school. However, Carter said that is a very bad idea.

     “We strongly encourage people not to jump off of bridges because you don’t know what lies beneath the water,” Carter said. “There could be debris or sand bars that could result in serious injury or death.”

     Carter encouraged anyone who observes any reckless behavior to call 1-800-besmart.

     “Our Be Smart hotline is available 24/7 to report any suspicion or violation,” he said.

     For more safety tips, call the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at 601-432-2400 and ask for someone in education or enforcement.