Safe Boating Week started this weekend, and it means more now than ever, because there are more dynamics working now than ever before.
Check this out: The Water Sports Foundation reported some 830,000 new boat owners have hit the water since the COVID pandemic began. That’s a lot of newbies joining our ranks, and with all this newness comes mistakes. It goes with the territory.
The Memorial Day weekend brings a special warning if only because this holiday weekend launches all sorts of angling adventures — the long-awaited recreational red snapper season begins Friday and the CCA’s summer-long Statewide Tournament and Anglers’ Rodeo (the S.T.A.R.) starts Saturday.
Safe boating courses have cut into the number of on-the-water accidents, but the two things all that education hasn’t stemmed is the need to wear life jackets and the enduring compulsion of boat owners to drink alcohol and drive boats.
“Safe Boating Week is a good time to make sure your boat and all of your safety equipment is ready to go,” said Major Clay Marques, the state’s Wildlife and Fisheries safe boating law administrator.
“We want to people to have fun on the water, but to do it in a safe and responsible manner. That starts with wearing a personal flotation device (life jacket) and having a sober operator.”
Just last year, our state had 26 boating fatalities and 19 among that number were not wearing life jackets. With 10 fatalities this year, we’re on pace to repeat 2021’s number with the same non-life jacket percentage.
Marques said this is a good time for boat owners to do a full inspection of their boats, first to make sure they have all the required safety equipment, and, second, to make sure the boat, engines and outboards, wiring, gas tanks, filters and switches are working.
What’s more, state Enforcement Division agents and most parish Sheriff’s Water Patrol officers will be on the water through Memorial Day. So don’t be surprised if you’re stopped for a boating safety check and a sobriety check.
One prepandemic year as many as 20 boat operators were cited for driving while intoxicated during this week. Know that anyone convicted of a DWI on the water is subject to the same penalties DWI on-the-road convictions, penalties like losing a driver’s license, boating privileges and court fines not to mention what that does for insurance.
What’s more, the check might include agents asking for a boating license. Yes, state law requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1984 is required to successfully complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrator boating education course to operate a motorboat powered by an engine rated more than 10 horsepower. So, if you’re 38 years or younger you need the certificate.
To schedule a no-fee safe boating course, go to this Wildlife and Fisheries website: wlf.louisiana.gov/page/boater-education.
And you can find all boating and life jacket regulations on the agency’s website: wlf.louisiana.gov then click on the “Boating” tab.
Just so you know there are three of new boating regulations.
The first involves fire extinguishers: Boats less than 26 feet and “model year 2017 or older may continue to carry older, dated or undated B-I or B-II disposable extinguishers. When they are no longer serviceable or have reached 12 years of age since manufacture, they must be replaced with newer class 5-B or greater extinguishers.
“Boats less than 26 feet and 2018 model year or newer must carry unexpired 5-B, 10-B or 20-B fire extinguishers.”
However, recreational boats 26 feet long or less are exempt from having to carry a fire extinguisher only if “the boat has an outboard engine, the fuel is in a portable fuel tank, and there are no areas within the boat where fuel vapors can be trapped.”
The best advice is to carry an approved fire extinguisher.
Next is new requirement for an engine cutoff switch.
Since April 1 last year, “boat operators (need) to use either a helm or outboard lanyard or wireless engine cutoff switch (ECOS) on certain vessels less than 26 feet when traveling on plane or above displacement speed.”
The explanation is boat drivers have a working engine cutoff device installed at the helm (on center console boats) or on the outboard engine or have wireless cutoff switch, or on boats manufactured beginning January 2020.
The exception is “if the main helm of the vessel is in an enclosed cabin or the vessel is not operating on plane or at displacement speed,” and includes things like fishing or docking at low speeds or if the boat’s motor (engine) produces less than 115 pounds of static thrust, or about the size of a two horsepower engine.
A third rule change allows boats to carry electronic visual distress signals that run about $100, and fresh batteries are needed. The Coast Guard altered regulations to solve disposal problems of expired pyrotechnic flares. These newer distress signaling devices use either a white or combination of orange-red/cyan LED lights with infrared for rescuers with night vision. For daytime distress boat owners can continue to use orange distress flags to avoid carrying flares.
You need this
With the recreational red snapper season opening Friday, fishermen need to have a no-fee Recreational Offshore Landing Permit to bring red snapper and other reef and offshore species back to the dock.
You need to have basic and saltwater fishing licenses in state waters to possess these species. To get the ROLP, go to the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov.