ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — As COVID restrictions continue to ease, officials are expecting an especially busy Memorial Day weekend on the water.
It's currently National Safe Boating Week, which is recognized every year during the week before Memorial Day.
The U.S. Coast Guard has worked several water accidents already this year. So far, there have been nine boating fatalities in Louisiana, according to the Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries. There were 24 in 2020.
In March, a 33-year-old Chalmette man was killed in Lake Pontchartrain when the boat he was on struck the Highway 11 bridge. In April, 26-year-old Laura Thomas was killed riding her jet ski on the Tchefuncte River. Her brother said it was getting dark and she hit a tree.
"For me, it's important to talk on the safety of it because if they had practiced better safety, then maybe I'd still have my sister," Alexander Thomas said in April.
U.S. Coast Guard Safety Specialist Paul Barnard said boaters reduce their chances of being in a fatal accident by 75 percent if they follow three guidelines.
First, wear a life jacket or personal flotation device. Eighty percent of boating fatalities are drownings, according to Barnard. If you find life jackets too uncomfortable and are not willing to wear it all day, find a lightweight, compact waist belt that inflates with a manual pull.
"A life jacket that's not worn is not going to do its job," Barnard said.
Second, have a sober driver.
"We want our operators to abstain from alcohol or operating while impaired to any degree," Barnard said. "And you know what? Since passengers represent 50 percent of fatalities in boating accidents, it makes sense for them to exercise moderation."
Third, follow navigation rules like speed limits and watch your surroundings.
"Especially when it comes to blind bends or waterway intersections where you cant see what's coming the other direction, expect another boat to be there, adjust your speed accordingly and at night adjust your speed accordingly," Barnard said.
Several agencies including the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard, will be patrolling this weekend to perform boating safety checks, make sure everyone has a life jacket, and make sure drivers are sober.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office also offered these tips:
- Adhere to the boat placard regarding capacity and weight.
- Utilize navigation lights as required when operating between sunset and sunrise.
- Have a PFD available for each occupant. (proper size required)
- Make sure all children 16-and-under are wearing a PFD while underway as required by law.
- Ensure that anyone operating a tiller handle boat under 16 feet in length is wearing a motor shut off lanyard and a PFD while underway.
- Please obey the posted no wake zone signage and be aware that public boat launches and fuel docks are also no wake zones regardless of signage.
- Ensure your vessel has the appropriate safety equipment required by law. (sound making device, throw cushion/ring, flares, etc.)
- Please file a float plan with friends or family by letting them know where you launched/started your trip and when you expect to return.
- Make sure that anyone operating a Personal Water Craft (jet ski) is 16 years of age and older and do not operate a Personal Water Craft (jet ski) after dark or before sunrise. This is illegal and very dangerous.
- Ensure that those born after 1984 and operating a vessel or PWC have a boater safety card.
- Last but not least, do not drink and drive! Impaired driving applies to the water as it does the roadway.