US Coast Guard takes part in National Safe Boating Week

May 25, 2018 GMT

HUNTINGTON - When the summer heat hits, it’s a safe bet that waterways will be more than just a sight to see - they become the place to be.

But don’t let a day on the lake or a float down the river be the last thing you do this summer.

This week marks the 60th annual National Safe Boating Week, which focuses on getting the word out about the importance of safe boating.

“We believe that wearing a life jacket is the simplest way to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones while enjoying a day on the water,” said Peg Phillips, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC).

The NSBC is the most prominent advocate for the advancement and promotion of safer boating through education, outreach and training. However, the local U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) unit is doing its part to ensure the proper safety measures are followed.

“We try to come at safety from different perspectives to (bring) down the risk at each level - the importance of what you’re doing, being aware of what you are doing and being aware of the dangers that go along with boat ownership,” said Daniel Rynard, chief of response at the Marine Safety Unit in Huntington.

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Huntington is the largest inland port in the country, making the Ohio Valley a high-traffic, high-risk area. Rynard said the Coast Guard has the same ability to monitor the waters as the police department does the road, but with an added twist.

“What is unique about the Coast Guard is that we don’t have to have a reason to pull someone over. Because we operate on the water, we don’t have to have that probable cause,” Rynard said.

These “traffic stops” are for the safety of those on board and an extra set of eyes to ensure the boat is safe to operate and that safety protocols - like wearing life jackets - are being followed.

“We cannot stress that enough,” Rynard said. “Just having a life jacket increases your chance of survival by that much. If there is a child without a life jacket or, say, four life jackets on a boat with five people, you’re going home. We will escort you back to land.”

Approximately 83 percent of water-related deaths occur when individuals either are not wearing a life jacket or are not using it properly.

Many of the same rules apply on water as they do on land. A life jacket, for instance, is comparable to a seat belt. One particular point of emphasis in this year’s NSBC Safe Boating Campaign is to raise awareness about boating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A BUI is punishable by law in the same way as a DUI, driving under the influence. Coast Guard boats are as equipped to detect intoxication levels as any standard police cruiser.

“Don’t operate a boat under the influence and wear your life jacket, and you’ve eliminated a good amount of danger on the water,” Rynard said.

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The USCG enforces the federal law and encourages commercial and recreational boaters to check with their local Department of Natural Resources for the latest updates on policies.

One other simple way to stay safe on the water is to have a plan of action before launching and take extra steps to be prepared in case the plan changes.

“Let somebody know where you’re going and what time you’ll be back,” said Michael Nunnery, petty officer first class. “Test all of your safety equipment, know how to work it and that you have it with you in case of emergency.”