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One of the distinct advantages of living along the Ohio River is that we have miles and miles of open water available to us for recreation, right at our doorstep. Hot weather drives us toward the water, and the Independence Day holiday is a prime time for boating, skiing, and fishing. Many boaters are out on the water well after dark to take in a fireworks show.

The Biggest Boating Day of the Year

Independence Day has traditionally been the most popular day for boating in the United States, particularly because it often comes with a three-day weekend. The weather is hot, and the water is cool, and it’s hard to beat that combination for fun. But it’s also often the mostdangerous day for boating – inexperienced vehicle operators, excessive speed, and alcohol consumption can contribute to accidents and injuries, just like they do on dry land.

Boating and Alcohol Don’t Mix

More than 600 people lost their lives in a boating accident in 2014, and alcohol was a leading factor in nearly a quarter of these deaths. Alcohol is especially potent on the water, because the pitching and rolling motions associated with being on a boat – in addition to being physically taxing – tend to scramble a person’s equilibrium. Add bright sunshine and heat to the mix, and it further intensifies the feelings of intoxication. And it doesn’t matter if you’re at the helm or sitting in the passenger seat – the odds of death are nearly identical for both captains and passengers when alcohol is involved.

Life Jackets

The U.S. Coast Guard requires that a boat have one USCG-approved life jacket per person aboard. While there are no rules requiring the wearing of lifejackets while boating, the Coast Guard recommends that children wear one at all times while on the water, as well as having them easily accessible in the event of an emergency.More than 80% of people who drowned while boating in 2014 were not wearing life jackets; in order for a life jacket to be effective, it must be: USCG approved, appropriately sized for the person wearing it, in good condition, and WORN by the user. Wear a life jacket even if you know how to swim, and be aware that river currents can be stronger than you anticipate.

Boating at Night

What’s an Independence Day celebration without fireworks? Many people are out on the water on Independence Day to take advantage of a great view of riverfront fireworks – in fact, it may be the only day of the year they’re out on the water after dark. Safe boating after dark requires proper navigational lighting for your vessel so that others can see you in the water, but additional lights such as cabin lights or other onboard courtesy lights reduce your night vision. Speed is another concern at night, as well; in Indiana, boats on the water at night must not travel at speeds greater thanten miles per hour.

Safe Boating is Enjoyable Boating

No matter what your plans are for being out on the water this summer, being a responsible boater – and boat passenger – is the best way to protect the health and safety of everyone involved. In addition to wearing life jackets, avoiding alcohol, and adhering to a reasonable speed, there are other precautions you should take.

  • Make sure your boat is properly equipped – the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers aVessel Safety Check to help determine if you have all of the necessary equipment onboard
  • Be prepared for emergencies – check your first aid kit, make sure it’s filled and up-to-date, and know basic first aid procedures
  • Plan for proper hydration – just because you’re out on the water doesn’t mean you won’t need water to drink, or snacks to keep your energy levels up
  • File a float plan – tell someone on dry land where you’re headed and when you anticipate returning
  • Keep a sharp lookout – debris in the water can damage or even capsize a boat, and sandbars can be well-hidden in shallow water
  • Watch the weather – storms and windy conditions can occur at any time during hot, humid summer days, so know the forecast before you launch and keep an eye on the sky
  • Be sun-smart – wear sunscreen, protect your eyes from the glare of bright sunshine bouncing off the water, and know when you’ve had enough sun for one day
  • Practice the three Cs: courtesy, common sense, caution – a boater has many of the same vehicular responsibilities as someone in a car on dry land

If you’re going to be out on the water this Independence Day – or any other day of the year – understand that a fun day on the water can turn tragic very quickly if you’re unprepared. At Gerling Law, we hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday, and many other enjoyable days out on the water!

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