Be careful on the water
By: Kirby Desha for The News Messenger
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Memorial Day is the traditional kickoff for the recreational boating season and it pays to be mindful when sharing the waterways with the large variety of watercraft that are encountered.

A recent accident between a boat and a personal watercraft resulted in tragedy on Modesto Reservoir, as a 16-year-old was killed and two other people were injured. Excessive speed was blamed for the cause of the crash.

The 2016 statistics from the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) are grim; 588 accidents that resulted in 266 injuries, including 50 deaths. Of the fatalities, 42 drowned and 83 percent were not wearing lifejackets.

Also, 32 percent of the 50 deaths were from paddle-craft accidents (canoes/kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, etc.) and 18 percent were considered “fishing related.” Alcohol was involved in more than 40 percent of the fatalities, where alcohol testing was conducted.

Also disturbing is that the areas most often mentioned were “northern lakes.”

Drownings are a too-common occurrence in our region as well. It should be pointed out that inexperienced swimmers often have no idea of how swift and cold the water is flowing in the rivers right now.

I am always shocked by the number of children who drown, even under the watchful eye of parents and guardians. And I am equally dismayed as to the adults and teens who don’t know how to swim still get into the water without a lifejacket. I am at a loss for words on that one.

The National Marine manufacturers Association has a great website called “Discover Boating” at They cover topics such as boat types, accessories, insurance and, most of all, safety. There are pages of checklists, maintenance and tips on boating with kids and pets.

Before going out, have a “float plan.” Tell someone at home where you are going and when you expect to be back. It is wise to leave with your family the cell numbers of those you plan to take out. Let them know what type of boat you have and the registration information.

Check the weather before you go. We all know the winds can kick up unexpectedly and, to me, that can create some of the most hazardous conditions out there. Anyone facing a hard headwind should scoot over close to shore and slow down. Keep the boat turned into the waves; do not turn crossways where you can get broadsided.

In the event the boat capsizes, don’t swim away from it. All modern boats are made so as not to sink. Find something like a rail to hang onto and get your body out of the water as much as possible to reduce the risk of hypothermia.

Did you know that over half of all boating accidents involve a personal watercraft that was borrowed?

Before loaning a boat to anyone, make sure the borrower is familiar with the all operational rules for safe handling of that particular boat.

Let’s all practice sober boating and make sure everyone gets home safely.