Boat safety efforts in Indiana

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Helping to wear it: Through Indiana's Wear It program, Indiana conservation officers such as Matt Tholen look to remind children and adults about the importance of wearing life jackets when riding in boats. | Supplied photo

Stay safe, dry, and free of fines this boating season.

Indiana Conservation Public Relations Lt. William Browne reminds boaters of well-being tips and water requirements for the season.

“Boating is a very safe and excellent recreational pursuit for Indiana citizens when the laws are adhered to, but it becomes risky when the laws are not followed,” Browne said.

Last year, Indiana had 62 reported accidents with two fatalities and 22 injuries. That’s down from 2011, when 75 boating accidents yielded 11 fatalities and 44 injuries.

Regulations, which often carry fines, are intended to prevent those accidents, injuries, and deaths.

Browne said DNR has partnered with the National Safe Boating Council, the U.S. Coast Guard, and private industry for the life-saving initiative, Wear It.

“Our Wear It program is a national campaign that highlights the wearing of life jackets as a foolproof way to reduce the loss of life due to drowning,” he said.

One U.S. Coast Guard approved, wearable life jacket (that fits properly) must be on board every watercraft for each occupant. Boats over 16 feet must have a throwable personal flotation device as well.

Those are the legal requirements.

The Coast Guard reports that 88 percent of boaters, more than 400, killed nationwide in 2010 were not actually wearing a life jacket. When they’re locked away somewhere in the boat, they aren’t always accessible in emergencies.

Reckless on the water

Conservation officers are also on the lookout for dangerous boating activities.

“Indiana has laws against imprudent operation and reckless operation of motorboats, which are misdemeanors,” Browne said. These are typically enforced when a boater does dangerous maneuvers or travels too closely to other boaters or swimmers.

Among other risky activities is “bow riding,” which occurs when passengers sit on the bow of the boat.

“This activity is dangerous because if they do fall into the water, the boat will travel directly over them and the propeller of the motor will cut the victim,” Browne said.

Similarly, gunwale riding, or sitting on the side edge of the boat, can have horrifying consequences.

“If the person falls overboard, the driver will instinctively turn away, causing the motor to strike the victim,” Browne said.

The previous two activities are only illegal when the boat is in motion.

“The largest danger is boating while intoxicated or operating a motorboat under the influence of drugs,” Browne said. “A boat is difficult to maneuver and does not have brakes. To safely maneuver the boat, the driver must be aware and alert.”

Because of this, the DNR is part of Operation Dry Water, another national campaign for boating safety.

The Coast Guard reports 17 percent of boating fatalities nationally are a result of alcohol use.

Indiana does not have an open container law for boating — both the driver and passengers aged 21 and over are permitted to consume alcohol. However, Browne said, the legal limit is .08, and the law and penalties are identical to motor vehicle laws.

Much like with motor vehicles, boats require a level of responsibility for safety.

“The most common mistake made by boaters is not taking time to become familiar with boating laws,” Browne said.

The DNR Law Enforcement Division created a Top Five Boating Violations video, which is accessible here: http://www.in.gov/dnr/lawenfor/

An online boating guide may be found at: http://www.boat-ed.com/in/handbook/. Hard copies are available at most marinas.