Washington State Parks is starting the 2019 boating season off with a week of boat safety reminders for outdoor lovers who are ready to hit the water while the weather starts to peak.

National Safe Boating Week coincides with the beginning of boating and fishing seasons and during this year’s campaign, May 18 - 24, the Washington State Parks Boating Program will increase its emphasis on recreational boating safety while encouraging people to have fun on Washington’s beautiful waters, a Washington State Parks news release states.

“Boating safety is important 24-hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year,” State Parks Boating Program Manager Rob Sendak states in the news release. “But we find that on-the-water accidents and fatalities increase as the weather warms up and more people get out on the water.”

Last year there were 103 reported boating accidents with 21 fatalities and 57 injuries. Over 70 percent of those accidents happened between May and August. According to Washington’s recreational boating accident data, that trend is reflected in accident data from the last five years.

“Safe boating begins with preparation,” Sendak states in the news release. “Through basic boating safety behaviors, boaters can help keep Washington’s waterways safe for everyone this summer and year-round.”

The Boating Program recommends the following safety tips for boaters.


Get educated

Many recreational boaters in Washington are required to complete an approved boating safety education course and carry a Washington State Boater Education Card, according to the news release.

All boaters and paddlers are responsible for knowing the laws and keeping themselves and others safe. Even if carrying a card is not required, the boating program recommends people take a boating safety course to increase their knowledge of safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. More information about boater education can be found at www.boatered.org.


Schedule a vessel safety check

Local marine law enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons, have certified vessel examiners who will perform a free “vessel safety check,” the news release states. These checks are conducted at a boat ramp, dockside or at other pre-determined locations. These checks take 15 to 30 minutes. There is no charge and no consequences for not passing. The agencies will provide a written report on how to correct any discrepancies. Boats passing the safety check receive a decal indicating the boat is in full compliance with federal and state boating laws. Learn more and schedule a vessel safety check by visiting www.cgaux.org/vsc/.


Always wear a life jacket

State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to have at least one properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard. All children, ages12 and younger, are always required to wear one, according to the news release. The boating program encourages boaters to wear their life jackets every time they go out on the water. Life jackets are now much more sophisticated, comfortable and tailored for specific water activities. More about life jackets can be found at www.wearitwashington.org.


Bring communication devices

Boaters should carry two forms of communication that will work when wet, such as a whistle, waterproof cell phone or VHF marine radio. These devices greatly increase the chance of being located in an emergency. Also recommended are flares, a signal mirror and an air horn to aid emergency responders in search efforts, the news release states. Boaters should also consider carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB), which instantly notifies responders of their location when activated. More on communications device can be found at http://bit.ly/boat_comm.


Avoid alcohol and drugs

Boat owners and/or operators are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on board. Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, is not only unsafe, it’s illegal. The boating program recommends designating a sober skipper, the news release states. Washington state’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law applies to all boats including kayaks, canoes, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts. More information about boating sober can be found at www.boatsober.org.


Check and understand the weather

Boaters should check the weather frequently before and during their boating excursion, keeping an eye on current conditions and forecasts. Boaters should check warnings, weather conditions, wind and wave forecasts and tide and current conditions. It’s also important to understand how each of these elements affects a person’s ability to control their vessel. Boaters should heed any warnings and avoid navigating in those areas. The National Weather Service (NOAA Weather Radio) broadcasts can be found on marine band and standalone weather radios. Learn more at http://bit.ly/boating_wx.


Protect against cold-water shock

Falling into water under 60 degrees is dangerous, and many of Washington’s waters remain below 60 degrees all year, including lakes and rivers, even during hot weather. The biggest risk is not hypothermia; its cold-water shock, which occurs in the first stage of immersion. Boaters need to take caution and be prepared by always wearing a life jacket. Especially in boats under 21 feet, such as a kayak, rowboat or small fishing boat, which have a higher risk of capsizing. Learn more about how to protect yourself at https://bit.ly/2Gl9YqN.

National Safe Boating Week is coordinated each year by the National Safe Boating Council and its boating safety partners across the U.S. and Canada.